Christopher Nolan’s Memento: A Philosophical Consciousness Debate
Plot Summary (Warning: Contains Spoilers)
Memento tells the story of a hopelessly enraged man who is looking for the person who raped and murdered his wife. However, Lenny forgets who he is periodically and can not create and form lasting new memories anymore as a result of a traumatic head injury that occurred just before his wife’s attack. The catch is: yes someone attacked his wife, no she was not murdered during the attack and nor was she murdered in the true sense of the word. Throughout the film, Lenny searches for answers with the help and perhaps misdirection of a few other interesting characters. He embarks on a journey of self reflection and duty, learning that in the end most times it is human nature to shield yourself from the horror of real, untainted truth.
How Philosophy relates to Fiction
John Locke was and English philosopher and physician that lived in the 1600s and died in the early 1700s. Locke mainly prescribed to the idea of persistence of mind translating as a untiring identity. The specific Locke ideal states “consciousness makes personal identity”, basically saying that a persistent form of consciousness and a repeated act of being conscious is what proves that our personal identity is in existence. If it would make logical sense that one may be able to maintain an undeviating habit of mind than they therefore subsist as a personalized and singular entity. This entity where the consciousness follows an itemized format and furthermore creates a recognizable identity to the person, oneself or others. A “pattern of self” could potentially be perceived as a pinpointed perspective that is linked only to the ability to sustain a recurring memory and sense of comprehensive identity. Although, identity is not just substance based, it can also manifest in the consciousness or even the subconsciousness but its perseverance is continual. For the most part, it could be said the identity remains intact even when it faces times of strife, minute or colossal disruption.
Is Lenny still Lenny: Is he considered a person?
These theories directly apply to Lenny or Leonard in the Christopher Nolan’s Memento. Even though Lenny’s consciousness is interrupted by periods of inability to know when and where he is, he sustains a want and or unchanging desire to create a puzzle for himself. When he does, on occasion, regain small portions of complete consciousness of his reality he recreates the mystery all over again. A further example of Lenny still securing and keeping his sense of identity even with the constant remembering and forgetting of present moments. His personal identity continues to show up in his starkly intelligent, diabolical mind and in his obviously deliberate steps taken to forget these things about his past life in future ‘freshly formed’ realities to come.
A direct example of his enduring personality is the repeating of his mantra, “Remember Sammy Jankis” according to his hand tattoo. Yet, even among the enigmatic farce he periodically reforms, Lenny manages to remember his past life in moments of clarity. In such moments he proves his consciousness and identity all together. Even with the troubling condition that his short-term memory suffers, it is clear he remembers things in his long-term memory and he has absolutely no problem recalling the details of what has happened long ago. He remembers that his wife had diabetes, he remembers giving her shots and he remembers the accident that caused him to have memory loss as severe as Sammy’s. Sammy’s loss is so close to what he lost. Why is it then that he has trouble distinguishing himself from the narrative he then tells himself and does that prove a break in conscious identity?
Sammy vs. Lenny: Long Term Memory Proves Identity
To people in the audience that claim he may not remember the accidental killing of his wife, then how is it that he does indeed remember the specifications Sammy Jankis’ life? It is because his persisting personality is able to confuse himself into thinking Sammy is a different person than he is. Although there are undeniable similarities in his life story to Sammy’s story, the permanence of his high intellect gives him the unchanging ability to plant artificial lineage to circumstance and alter the way he originally concludes the outcome of events. Especially because he proves time and time again throughout the movie to have a superior form of intelligence and tenacity these links would be too obvious for a brilliant mind like his to overlook. His overwhelming desire to investigate the guilty party pertaining to the death of his wife is an irrefutable trait of his personal identity that even memory loss could not wash away. Lenny’s self-made mystery also provides him with the perfect equation to substitute his own guilt with his innate curiosity for the truth, something his true self can simply not live without. The comprehension of his own personal traits grants his high intellect the tools to set a stage of misconception, almost perfectly unsolvable to his existing etch-a-sketch memory.
What is the truth & what makes Lenny reject it?
As such epiphanies flood back to Lenny as Teddy describes the reality of his wife’s death we see Lenny’s ability to understand reality come to fruition. In the few short moments of absolute coherence, Lenny exhibits a massive effort to rewrite his own history in order to not live with the turmoil of his wife’s death and furthermore create a nearly impossible mystery of her passing in order to keep himself distracted and from a regaining of unadulterated truth. An utterly imperishable aspect is his vehement need for a chase resides at the forefront of his personality and could arguably remain the standout example that Lenny is able to retain his sense of identity.
Even if how and why his wife dies is known for what really happened, in the demonstrated cycle of the film, it can be assumed that Lenny will always take intentional actions to keep himself from fully functioning in his new and fleeting realities. That very fact supports the conclusion that the core of what drives Lenny remains intact even without the ability to establish new memories. To speak to Locke’s point of view, it may not make perfect sense to place all of Lenny’s personal identity on his unwavering form or ‘consciousness’ yet that’s not to say he does not have an identity to begin with. It could be suggested that the foundational format or template of his consciousness is technically remembered and regained each and every time he loses his sense of reality and is then forced to readopt his circumstance using this untraceable (yet traceable) sense of self. If he did not have this drive to keep chasing clues and vengeance than perhaps one could characterize Lenny as lacking an identity, but in Nolan’s Memento, that seems to not be the case.
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