Basement Films: Something to remember you by

Sean Strain

“I always thought the joy of reading a book was not knowing what happens next,” says the main character of the film Memento. Memento quickly disproves this idea as it is a film that begins at the very end and moves backwards in chronological order.

Let me explain. Memento tells the story of Leonard Shelby, a man who’s wife was murdered by a random thug and struck Leonard in the back of the head. This blow damaged Leonard’s brain so that he is unable to create new memories and he quickly forgets things that happened only minutes earlier. Despite his condition, Leonard goes on a path of revenge for his wife using photographs and tattoos to give leave himself clues after he has forgotten things. 

As I said earlier, the film starts with the very last scene and moves to the first moment of the film. This creates the same disconcerting emotion Leonard would feel; he does not remember how he arrived at a certain situation and neither will the audience. Unlike Leonard, the audience can pull the clues together as the film backtracks to create a whole story.

While Memento is a film that deals with memories and their loss, it is more a film about our perception of reality versus the actual world around us. At one point in the film, another character questions Leonard about what is the point of avenging his wife if he will only forget about it minutes later.

“My wife deserves vengeance, “ Leonard responds. “Doesn’t matter whether I know about it. Just because there are things I don’t remember doesn’t make my actions meanignless. The world doesn’t just disappear when you close your eyes, does it?”

Essentially, Leonard argues that although he may never remember his own actions, they will still have some impact on the larger world around him and will then still have meaning. Indeed, as the film goes on, the audience questions if Leonard’s pursuit will ever truly end, but we still see how his actions can impact the reality around him even if he cannot perceive that reality.

Indeed, this reminds me of fame of artists. It is a well believed concept that many artists never receive much recognition for their work until after their deaths. Yet, simply because the artist could never have knowledge of their own importance, does that make their work meaningless? Of course not because they still alter the larger world, even if they will never experience it themselves.