Memento is a film that follows Leonard Shelby, played by Guy Pearce, who was left with a brain injury after being attacked by a man who he believes raped and killed his wife, the last memory he has. This brain injury has given Shelby anterograde amnesia, which has severely impacted his ability to form new memories.
One flaw with the movie is that Leonard says he has “no short-term memory”, but, in fact, that is all he has now, in addition to what happened prior to his accident. With anterograde amnesia, a person cannot form new memories, and short-term memory is generally spared.
Rapidly these memories fade – Leonard would have a conversation with someone, get distracted, then forget what just occurred and reintroduce himself to the individual. Different characters we meet respond to this deficit in different ways, some testing him, and some helping him out.
What’s going on with his brain?
Leonard is searching for the man who hurt him and his wife so he can kill him, finding clues along the way. The unique thing about this film is the way it is shown to viewers. The movie starts at the end and goes backwards in ten-minute segments, with the exception of segments in black and white that are going in order from Leonard’s past of being an insurance investigator. Viewers are able to see little clips of information, not sure what to make of the different characters or if Leonard is on the right track, which shoes how someone with anterograde amnesia may experience life.
To help him solve the mystery of who raped and murdered his wife, he makes many notes in the form of taking Polaroid pictures and writing notes on the backs (such as “Don’t believe his lies”), writing on post-it notes, and tattooing himself to guide him in his quest for revenge. For the most part, one watching the movie only has the notes that Leonard has made to help understand the characters Leonard meets (and meets again) to figure out their intentions.
This is a very interesting approach to a movie and gives the viewer insight for how difficult and confusing this disorder truly is. Luckily for Leonard, his procedural memories he has already formed are unaffected by anterograde amnesia. Procedural memory is a type of memory of how to do different skills and actions, such as driving a car. They are so ingrained that they are almost automatic.
Overall, this movie does a great job of showing what it is like to have anterograde amnesia, and is told in a way that makes you want to watch it again and again. The movie takes the viewer on a ride of mystery and suspense, not knowing if Leonard will get revenge or if his disorder will get the best of him.
- CineSci6: Memento (pubsci.co.uk)
- The Gap Between Knowledge And Awareness (pinkbananaworld.com)
- A Decent Read on Testing for those who have suffered a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (braininjuryresourcecenter.wordpress.com)
- The Caretaker: An Empty Bliss Beyond This World (Review) (popmatters.com)