It's four years since I watched "Memento" for the first time. Click here to read my review, because I don't intend to go into the film's plot again. I don't know why I waited so long to watch it again. "Memento" is possibly Christopher Nolan's best film, surpassing even the big budget "Inception" in its mind-bending originality.
The film was made in 2000 and is a product of its time. The methods of detective work used by Leonard Shelby are relatively low tech in comparison with what he could do today. He suffers from anterograde amnesia, an illness that prevents the creation of new memories, even though he can remember everything that happened before the illness began. Leonard uses Polaroid photos, notes and tattoos to tell himself what he found out the previous day. If the film were made today he would use a smartphone, combining photos, videos and audio recordings as a replacement for his memories.
Leonard's sole purpose in life is to find and kill the man who murdered his wife. He's scared that he has enemies who might be falsifying his notes or destroying his photos, so he has his most important notes tattooed on his body. What he doesn't suspect is that he himself might have written false notes to lead himself astray. Maybe there are memories too painful to remember, so he's decided to forget them.
This is a fascinating subject. I don't suffer from an illness like Leonard Shelby, but my memory isn't perfect. It's good, but not perfect, as I realised yesterday when I found an old photograph that I haven't seen for years. It was taken on my graduation day in 1978 with the eight members of my university course. I was shocked to realise that out of the seven fellow students in the photo I could only remember the names of three of them, even though we sat together in classes for years. I'm at the top dressed in green. Bottom left is Susan Busby. She's easy to remember because we had a relationship for a few months. She was the only girl from my university that I ever dated. Next to her is her best friend Pamela Flaws. I spent a lot of time with her in the last year helping her study, because she was struggling to keep up. It went well for a few months, but then she began to resent my help because she thought I was talking down to her. I wasn't, I genuinely wanted to help her, and I was overjoyed when she passed. Top right is Ian, who invited me to his wedding in York, but I've forgotten his last name. He's lucky. I can't remember the other four at all.
Now the question is: what would happen if I had deliberately labelled the photo with the wrong names 40 years ago? I would look at it now, and because I can't remember the correct names I would assume that the wrong names are correct, that I've merely forgotten them.
What about more recent memories, like films? I watch a lot of films, more than 400 a year. Even if I only count the films which I'm watching for the first time, it must be over 100, maybe as many as 200. There are some films that I remember vividly. I have no trouble remembering the best films and the worst films. It's the average quality films that are fuzzy in my memory, even if it's only been a year since I watched them. My brain throws out the irrelevant clutter. I've got into the habit of always reading my old review (or reviews) when I watch a film that I've seen before. The main reason is so that I don't write a new review that repeats everything I've already said, but it's also to deepen my analysis, by reminding myself of what I already know so I can concentrate on finding new things.
What if I deliberately sabotaged my blog? What if I wrote that a film is brilliant, even though I hate it? What if I love a film, but I give it a bad review? I'm not saying that it would be good to do things like that, but if I did, what would be the result? I might return to a film after a few years and say, "That's weird, it's not the way I remember it at all". Alternately, if I've forgotten the film my incorrect review might replace my memories when I read it.
Putting it bluntly, if I lie about something often enough, will I believe my own lies? It's not something I've ever done, but I've seen others, including my own mother, who have done it. She told lies about my father to cover up her affair with another man, but when I spoke to her 25 years later I had the impression she really believed what she was saying. The lies weren't just to persuade others, they were to convince herself, and when she was in her 70's she no longer remembered the past events, she just remembered her words about them.
If, like Leonard Shelby, you've done something very bad you have a reason for wanting to forget. My mother wanted to forget. I've never done anything as bad as my mother. If I had I might want to forget it, but could I? I confessed my darkest secret in a recent post. It's not something I think about a lot, but it's something I've never forgotten, and when I think about it I feel guilty. Could I have reprogrammed myself to forget this memory? I would have forgotten the guilt, but the guilt would have remained. The deeper question is, if it really is possible to reprogram myself to forget, have I done it already? Was I a serial killer in my teens, and I've forgotten all about it? That's a scary thought.
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