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The Inherent Imperfections of Memory

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Autor:   •  August 5, 2017  •  Essay  •  1,356 Words (6 Pages)  •  190 Views

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The Inherent Imperfections of Memory

In ‘Symptoms of Discursivity: Experience, Memory and Trauma’ Ernst Van Alphen argues that “forms of experience do not just depend on the event or history that is being experienced but also the discourse in which the event is expressed”[1]. This suggests that the recollections of memory and experience depend heavily on the perspectives and personal context of the observer. Therefore the accuracy and reliability of all memories are not based on what happened or how it is remembered but can be measured by how the event or history is perceived to have happened. This idea is promoted in Christopher Nolan’s psychological thriller Mememto, in which the protagonist, Leonard (Lenny) Shelby suffers from a condition preventing him from forming new short-term memories as he seeks revenge on the man who raped and supposedly murdered his wife[2]. In order to avenge his wife’s death, Lenny substitutes written forms (tattoos, handwritten notes and polaroid photographs) for the memories he cannot make. In presenting Lenny’s unusual form of memory-making in contrast to regular types of mental recollections, Nolan demonstrates that it is not a question of whether memory forms change the accuracy of the recollections but how the original events are perceived that causes memory to be imprecise. Indeed in today’s age of reporting and recording experiences, it is impossible to find two identical recollections of the same event from two different people, because the individual’s context has an impact on exactly what the person remembers, leading to the evolution of historiography, a study in which the interpretation of historical events, rather than the events themselves, is investigated[3]. Through the juxtaposition of physical and mental memory recollections, the flaws of all memory forms are highlighted by Nolan’ film, revealing the idea that all memories are misleading because they are influenced by the perspective of the individual to whom they belong.

To deal with his short term memory loss Lenny conditions himself to trust and rely on written texts. Lenny has to create a system in order to deal with his short term memory loss and he argues that his system of memory-making is just as effective, if not more effective, than that of mental recollections. The method Lenny employs is to separate different types of memories via different writing forms. “For day to day stuff notes are really useful,” remarks Lenny; he mostly uses handwriting to register quick thoughts, photos are used to recognise the images of places and people, and tattoos, “a more permanent way of keeping a note,” are used to recall the most important and supposedly accurate memories (relating to the investigation of his wife’s attacker). Just as Lenny uses different writing forms for different types of memories, the audience becomes aware that “the memorial presence of the past takes many forms,” and that different parts of the brain are used to remember different aspects of life such as a phone number opposed to the characteristics of a friend’s face.[4] However, this difference is revealed as irrelevant because it doesn’t determine the accuracy of the recollection.

In Memento Nolan foregrounds the inherent inaccuracy of memory by having Lenny rely on handwriting as a form a memory and demonstrating that such a form is riddled with faults. Lenny claims that his form of recollection via the use of written facts is more reliable than memory that can “change the shape of a room (or) the colour of a car,” however his system of documentation is also revealed as problematic. He claims to “be wary of other people writing notes for him…leading (him) astray,” and yet it is revealed that Lenny’s circumstances make it necessary for him to rely on other people’s notes and handwriting. This is shown when he follows Natalie’s note to meet up with her and Teddy’s recommendation to stay at the Discount Inn. We see other examples of how Lenny’s reliance on handwritten notes can adversely affect the memories he collects when he cannot find a pen to note that Natalie plans to use him and also when Teddy doesn’t allow Lenny to note that his real name is John Gammell and that he is a police officer. Another fault of the documentative style of memory-making is seen when Lenny’s facts collide (when he finds notes indicating that both Teddy and Natalie are not to be trusted), and yet he chooses to believe the note written first was the correct one, when instead it was the other way round. We see Lenny also misinterprets his written notes when he mistakes a “6” for a “9” and attacks the wrong hotel room when he is looking for Dodd. Furthermore Lenny ignores his own handwriting suggesting that Natalie is untrustworthy simply because he wrote it in a different handwriting style. In all the above cases the situation Lenny was in, both emotionally and physically, affected the accuracy of his recollections. Therefore the audience is not left questioning whether the form of memory-making is effective but how much the emotional state of the individual impacts on the memory being made.


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