"Remember Leonard Shelby": 'Memento' and the Double Life of Memory

In Julian Dodd (ed.), Art, Mind, and Narrative: Themes from the Work of Peter Goldie. Oxford University Press. pp. 89-99 (2016)
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Abstract

Christopher Nolan’s Memento illustrates and explores two roles that memory plays in human life. The film’s protagonist, Leonard Shelby, cannot ‘make new memories’. He copes by using a ‘system’ of polaroids, tatoos, charts and notes that substitutes for memory in its first role, the retention of information. In particular, the system is supposed to help Leonard carry out his sole goal: to find and kill his wife’s murderer. In this it proves a disastrous failure. But are we so very much better off? The film uses the failures of Leonard’s system to raise doubts about the effectiveness of our own psychological capacities for grasping the past. However, memory does more than allow us to retain information. As Richard Wollheim showed, it also enables the past to control our present, by perpetuating, while modifying, its affective hold over us. This is something wholly denied Leonard. By implicitly contrasting his position with ours in this respect, the film also explores this second role that memory plays in our lives

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Robert Hopkins
New York University

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