Philosophy in Film:
Memento, Memory and Identity
Essay by Kyle Abram, Lindenwood University
Christopher Nolan’s “Memento” proves to be a psychological thriller like few, if any, others have managed to be. Throughout the telling of this film noir detective story the topics of memory, identity and truth are discussed. The premise behind the film is a man, Leonard Shelby, without the ability to form new memories searches for the man, John G., who raped and murdered his wife. His only information retained after the incident, in which he as well was injured causing his condition, are notes, Polaroid photos, and an assortment of odd tattoos. Everyday he awakes as though he had just witnessed his wife’s last breath as she died before him, only to become confused as to his location. He first notices a tattoo on his hand telling him to “remember Sammy Jankis”, who was a man he knew before the incident that also had this condition. This reminds him that he too has this condition.
Once he looks in the mirror he sees the mirrored tattoo that reads, ”John G. raped and murdered my wife.” This tattoo reminds him of his goal, to find and kill whomever it was that harmed his wife. This happens each day, he wakes up as though it was right after her death and he chooses to find and murder the culprit. Every day he must relearn whom he has met and what he has learned since the incident. He uses Polaroid photos with notes written underneath and on the back with names, phone numbers, and other information to learn who he is dealing with and whether he should trust them or not. Living like this is nearly impossible, let alone finding the murderer. His particular condition is not complete amnesia though, which is better than it could be.
Leonard remembers everything up until the point of injury; how to drive, how to use a telephone, his name, his occupation, his past, and his identity, or so he thinks. Some say identity is formed out of “sameness of substance”, that...