Memento C Nolan 2000 Depicts the Complexity of Memory and its Relation

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Memento (C. Nolan, 2000) Depicts the Complexity of Memory and its Relation to Self-Identity1. IntroductionThe film Memento is an American film released in 2000, which was written and directed by Christopher Nolan. Christopher Nolan is famous for directing Interstellar, Inception, The Dark Knight series and many others. Memento was one of his earliest films he directed, which its script was based on a pitch by his younger brother, Jonathan Nolan. The film made a great impression to the society for its unique structure and plot, which led to the nomination for the Academy Awards in Original Screenplay and Film Editing. The film is about a man, Leonard Shelby, who lives his life with anterograde amnesia and is trying to find the man who raped and murdered his wife. Throughout the film, Leonard struggles with his memory and his personal identity, since he is incapable of making new memories. There are other films, such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, that have the same theme about memory and identity, but Memento has a unique approach to it. The film Memento significantly depicts that people’s memories define who they are with regards to their self-image and identity. We could see how Memento shows the complexity of the connection between memory and personal identity from three perspectives; the unique narrative structure, the genre of the film and by comparing Memento and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. 2. The Narrative StructureThe film’s most significant feature and the main reason why the film significantly stands out in the industry is because the film progresses in reverse chronological order. This structure is called a non-linear narrative structure. In Memento, there are two varieties of scenes, the black and white scenes and the color scenes. These two types of scenes are interwoven, which makes the film complicated and difficult to understand. If the audience wanted to view events in chronological order, they must start by viewing all the black and white scenes in the order that they were shown; then, all the color scenes in the reverse order that they were shown. Furthermore, we could assume that the director attempted to express to the viewers about the complicated narrative structure of the film in the opening scene. The opening scene runs backwards, and it is also shown in slow motion. The scene shows a Polaroid un-develop, a bullet flying back up in the gun and Teddy coming back to life after the sound of a shot. More about the two varieties of scenes, the two parts have different perspectives to depict Leonard’s condition. The black and white sequence offer an objective view of Leonard’s character. The viewers watch the protagonist calling the phone in his hotel room from a third person point of view. On the other hand, the color scenes are subjective and shot from Leonard’s perspective. According to Schmidt (2003), the camera tends to be shot over his shoulder or right behind him in most of the scenes and there are also close-ups of the main character to show his emotions. The audience is also shown details that only Lenny can see such as people’s small face expressions and hand movements. Since the film’s structure is rather difficult to understand than other films, the director hopes that the viewers will watch the film more that once. To prove that, there are scenes and cuts that are impossible to spot while watching it for the first time. One of the most famous and significant one is the scene where Leonard is telling Sammy’s story. There is a sequence that shows Sammy sitting in a chair at the mental hospital after “killing” his wife. The camera slowly zooms in on Sammy, who is constantly looking around at doctors and nurses passing by. At the very end of that sequence, we see Sammy begin to stare at a doctor who has not yet entered the shot. When the doctor does enter the shot, he passes in front of Sammy, which leaves him out of sight for a split second. The doctor then walks out of the frame, and Sammy comes back visible again before it switches back to Leonard talking on the phone in the hotel. However, at the last millisecond of the Sammy scene, we notice that Sammy has been switched out with Leonard. This implies that Leonard is actually Sammy before it is found out in the plot twist. This kind of “Easter egg” proves how much of a complicated film Memento is, which also depicts the complexity of memory. All of these examples of the complicated narrative structure such as the reverse chronological order progression, two color sequences, the reversed and slow motioned opening scene and many others, directly relates to Leonard’s condition. As stated above, Leonard Shelby has anterograde amnesia and short-term memory loss. By overlaying Leonard’s condition and the unique but complicated narrative structure, makes the audience struggle as much as Leonard does. This idea was especially shown in the opening scene. Schmidt (2003) discusses that the vanishing colours on the Polaroid can be compared to Lenny’s condition, which is, “after 15 minutes his brain is as blank as the Polaroid he holds in his hand at the end of the opening scene”. The complicated non-linear narrative structure superimposed to Leonard’s condition makes the viewers struggle just like him. By taking time and trying to understand the plot is one of the main aspects of this film. To understand the plot, we need to “memorize” all of the events that was shown from the beginning. This could be said to constructing personal identity as well. Even though it is not in chronological order, people must have some kind of memory to understand themselves, which Leonardo is incapable to do. To make the viewers realize how much this ability is important, helping construct a close relationship between Leonard and the viewers, using two color sequences and by changing perspectives, is crucial in this film. From the reasons above, the narrative structure of Memento shows the strong connection between memory and personal identity.3. The GenreTo discuss about the connection between memory and personal identity, the genre of Memento is a crucial aspect. The film comes under three genres; crime, drama and neo-noir.Memento is clearly a crim film, with a taste of mystery in it. According to Leitch (2002), the definition of the crime genre is hard to sharpen, but broadly, it is a” films whose primary subject is criminal culture, whether they focus on criminals, victims, or avengers”. In Memento, the crime that is trying to be solved is the murder of Leonard’s wife, which is covered in mystery. Not only Leonard’s incapability, but also the limited clue that the viewers are given. This crime-mystery genre gives the impression of the complexity of memory. Moreover, the identity that Leonard is trying to find or perhaps create is based on this complexity too.Another genre of Memento is drama. According to Buffam (2011), “drama film is a genre that relies on the emotional and relational development of realistic characters”. In Memento, the emotional and relational development is seen through Leonard and Natalie. Moreover, Leonard in particular, is constantly questioning what the truth is and who to trust. His condition causes a conflict with himself and other people, which makes him question who he actually is and what he did. The development seen in the protagonist in the drama genre shows an honest story of its struggles and difficulties. It emphasizes the complexity and the painfulness of amnesia.The last and the main genre of the film Memento is, neo-noir. Neo-noir literally means the new type of noir films, which is also a film genre. According to Schmidt (2003), in conventional noir films, “the audience is introduced to the dark world of crime, a world full of shadows, rain drenched streets and sleazy bars”. Low key lightning and dark plots were the conventions of the genre. Moreover, noir films were in their prime during the aftermath of the second world war, late 40s and 50s. However, after the 60s, the subgenre of noir films called the neo-noir films started to come out. While most of the neo-noir films largely follow noir film conventions, they are more aware of the role technology plays in contemporary society. Also, neo-noir films tend to have “alienation, bleakness, disillusionment, pessimism, evil, guilt and particularly paranoia” (Schmidt, 2003) moods; which were clearly depicted in Memento. The mise-en-scène in Memento is typical of the noir film genre. The use of lighting, colors, and the sets are just like conventional noir films. The flash back scenes use black and white lighting; that the contrast of the dark with the light give an objective and rational view of Leonard. The film’s setting, such as the old motel, abandoned warehouse and the depopulated town depict and highlight Leonard’s loneliness. We notice that everything that is shown in this film is all what Leonard thinks it is important or necessary. There were no bird’s eye view shots or scenic views included in the film since they are not important for Leonard. These conventional noir aspects help the viewers empathize with the protagonist, which leads to the importance and the complexity of memory and identity.Furthermore, although Memento contains several conventional aspects of noir films, there are conventional neo-noir parts too. For example, the opening scene. The opening scene is chronologically the final part of the plot. Since it was shown at the very beginning and was ran backwards and slow motioned, it leaves numerous amounts of questions to the viewers. Also, its camera angle, content and foreshadowing, sets the tone for the rest of the movie. On that point, as the film goes on, we notice what the function and importance of the opening scene is. As the film progresses, it provides surprises, suspense and satisfaction to the viewers, that is the opposite Leonard is facing.From the reasons above, the three main genres of Memento; crime, drama and neo-noir, gives an impression to the viewers how much of a complex situation Leonard is in. Moreover, it reminds the viewers the connection between memory and identity is a valuable thing that everyone can not have. The three genre helps this by bonding the protagonist and the viewers to feel the same way, but also the opposite at the same time.4. Comparison with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindFinally, the comparison with the film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind can help how Memento is significant to show the complexity of the connection between memory and personal identity. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is about a couple by the name of Joel and Clementine undergo the process of trying to delete each other from their memories after a messed-up relationship. Though, Joel begins to rediscover the reasons why they came together in the first place and tries to fight to retain the memories he has left. As Joel completely forgets Clementine, the film goes back to where the film has started and has Joel and Clementine meeting again as if they never even met before and their love begins to renew and have a fresh start.Memento and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind can be compared by several aspects, but in this paper, three of them will be introduced. The plot structure, the methods to keep memories and the theme.In both Memento and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, they are similar with the plot and how they deliver it. Both films play around with the sequence of events in the film, ignoring the chronological order. Just like Memento, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’s opening scene is chronologically the final part of the plot. However, on the point of complexity, Memento is significantly more difficult to understand. In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the viewers can track the timeline quite easily by Clementine’s hair color. In Memento, on the other hand, it will take time to realize the chronological order and the difference of the black and white scenes and the color scenes. Another interesting aspect to compare is the methods to retain memories. In both films, the protagonist is struggling to not forget the events that happened to themselves. In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Joel is pleading for the erasing to stop while he is under and then hiding himself and Clementine within his memories. This multidimensional way of retaining memory is quite fictional, but it emphasizes the importance of memory. In Memento, Leonardo retains his memory by tattooing himself, taking Polaroid photographs and taking notes. Along with his tattoos, the photographs emphasize Leonard’s dependency on tangible evidence of his life’s actions and goals. The difference between the two films is, what information the protagonists consider important. In Joel’s case, the existence of Clementine is the one and only information that he needs; but in Leonard’s case, there are several of them. This shows how much of a crisis Leonard is in.The final aspect to compare from is the theme of the films. Both Memento and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind share the concepts about memories and how they are considered valuable to construct self-identity. In Memento, Leonard has problems with his memories as he cannot retain new information. Throughout the film, Leonard always talks about how he remembered everything about who he is, and his wife including her murderer. However, Leonard fails to remember that he is the real reason why his wife died. Moreover, he subconsciously made up a story that his imaginary client Sammy did the action which Leonard actually did. Every time when Leonard kills another person believing that they are “John G.”, he is not satisfied because it always turns out to not be the real one. It could be said that some things are best left forgotten since Leonard will forever be on his “investigation”. On the other hand, in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, during the procedure, Joel realizes that the memories that he wanted to get rid of at first end up becoming the memories that he holds dear to his heart. From this point, we could see that in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, no matter how painful they are, people are better off with our memories. The different values towards memory and self-identity seen in these films suggests how memories are the core of an individual.5. ConclusionFrom the reasons above, Memento is a significant film that shows the complexity of the connection between memory and personal identity by creating a bond between the protagonist and the viewers. This makes the audience struggle as much as Leonard does, which creates empathy towards him. By knowing his struggles, his crisis situation and his frustration, the viewers will be able to realize how blessed and lucky they are to connect memory and self-identity. From the three perspectives; the unique narrative structure, the genre of the film and by comparing Memento and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, we know Memento is not only a mysterious crime drama. We can reconfirm that memory and personal identity is similar and the connection between them are extremely close. Just like Leonard says in the film, taking away someone’s memory means to destroy one’s “ability to live”. 6. References