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Psychology in Cinema: Christopher Nolan’s Memento, Movie Review Example

Pages: 3

Words: 699

Movie Review

The film Memento, which was written and directed by Christopher Nolan, is a murder mystery and psychological thriller. The film centers on the character of Leonard Pitts, who is intent on solving the murder of his wife and getting vengeance on the person or persons responsible for her death. During the course of a home invasion Leonard’s wife was raped and Leonard was struck in the head, leaving him with a case of anterograde amnesia. While Leonard is able to recall the important facts and events of his life prior to the attack, he no longer has the ability to form new memories. In order to compensate for his faulty memory, Leonard has developed several habits, including using a Polaroid camera to take pictures of people and events he wishes to recall; taking handwritten notes; and in extreme cases, tattooing himself with a list of “facts” that he has permanently written on his arms, torso, and other body parts. As Leonard delves more deeply into his past and his search for his wife’s killer, he begins to realize that he cannot trust anyone, including himself.

In order to give viewers some sense of what Leonard lives with as a sufferer of anterograde amnesia, the plot is unraveled out of sequence. Director Nolan uses several techniques, including cutting back and forth between color and black and white film, to alternate between events in the present day and events from Leonard’s past. The concurrent timelines are shown in reverse chronological order, which has the effect of confusing viewers while also drawing them into the mystery. These two concurrent timelines intersect at the climax of the film, when it becomes clear that Teddy, the man Leonard believes killed his wife, is innocent, and that it was Leonard who was actually responsible for her death when his faulty memory led him to give his wife an overdose of medication. Leonard realizes that a mysterious woman named Natalie had set him up to commit the murder, and also realizes that this is not the first time he has killed someone he blames for his wife’s death. Within a few moments, however, he forgets what he learned, and his quest to find the killer begins all over again.

One of the most compelling aspects of Memento is that much of it is told from the point of view of Leonard, allowing the viewer to experience the disorienting effects of his amnesia. While amnesia is often used as a plot device, in films, it is rarely portrayed accurately (Baxendale, 2004). What makes Memento different is that Leonard’s anterograde amnesia is portrayed in a relatively realistic manner, and his habit of recording information to remind himself of important people and events is reflective of what real-life patients have done to cope with their condition (Baxendale). The film even explicates the difference between semantic memory (which is linked to factual, objective information, such as the weight and texture of the glass dish Leonard picks up in one scene) and the kinds of memories that are linked with emotions and personal identity (Sternberg, 2001). Leonard may remember what a glass dish will feel like when he picks it up, but he does not remember who he is or who he has been since the attack.

Memento is a fascinating film precisely because it leaves viewers as disoriented and disconnected as the main character. Although his condition is revealed early in the film, viewers do not know what is happening from one scene to the next until the moment at the end where Leonard realizes what he has done. A documentary film about a patent with anterograde amnesia would allow viewers to see from the outside what the patient has to deal with, but Memento makes it possible for viewers to understand the profound sense of confusion, loss, and sadness that comes with such a condition.

Works Cited

Baxendale, S. (2004). Memories aren’t made of this: amnesia at the movies. BMJ, 329(7480), 1480-1483. doi:10.1136/bmj.329.7480.1480

Nolan, C. (2015). Memento (2000). IMDb. Retrieved 11 March 2015, from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0209144/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Sternberg, E. (2001). NEUROSCIENCE: Piecing Together a Puzzling World. Science, 292(5522), 1661-1662. doi:10.1126/science.1062103

YouTube,. (2015). 18-Minute Analysis By Christopher Nolan On Story & Construction Of ‘Memento’. Retrieved 11 March 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qduOF_sl1IQ

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