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So I watched Memento, and I felt like I understood the story pretty well, however, some things don't make so much sense to me. As far as I know:

  1. Leonard, the main character, did in fact see his wife being raped in the middle of the night by two criminals. He got hit in his skull and was injured, hence his condition.

  2. Some time afterwards, Leonard and his wife were involved in a car accident. Since then, he could not remember anything for longer than 5-10 minutes. His wife wasn't hurt. Apparently, there was no car accident (see s427's answer & comments).

  3. Since the injury all he could remember was things happened to him before the injury, like his name, his former work, etc.

  4. Since his memory condition, he has managed to live by making puzzles and playing detective in order to find the "guy who murdered his wife". He can't remember he had already found this guy, who in fact raped (not murdered) his wife, and killed him. Teddy, a police officer, has helped and is helping Lenard with his puzzles in order to give his life meaning.

  5. Leonard killed his own wife with the insulin shots - she died because of an insulin overdose (Sam Jenkins story).

Most of those details are being revealed at the end of the movie (the last scene, which is really the beginning of the sequence of events). Teddy, the police officer, tells him who he really is - Sam Jenkins. Now, this is what I don't quite understand:

  1. Leonard tells everyone he was an insurance investigator, and he was the one who handled the Sam Jenkins case. If he is Sam Jenkins, then was he ever an insurance investigator? If he killed his wife with the insulin shots, doesn't it mean that he used to be a doctor? Did he make up the insurance agent story? Why, and how? (because it means he was looking at himself from the outside).

  2. In the Sam Jenkins story Lenard says that he was in a hospital after he killed his wife. Was Leonard really in a hospital? When did this happen, and how did he recover?

  3. How does Leonard know he has a memory condition? Sam Jenkins, as seen, wasn't aware of his condition, and if Sam is Lenard after the accident, how can he be aware of his condition? Even if someone told him about his condition, he wouldn't remember it. I know he had "Remember Sammy Jenkins" tattooed on his arm. This is how he remembers he has this condition?

Here is the final dialogue between Leonard and Teddy, in the final scene, where most of truth about Leonard is being revealed:

Leonard: He knew about Sammy, why would I tell him about Sammy?!

Teddy: You tell everybody about Sammy! Everybody who'll listen! "Remember Sammy Jankis?" "Remember Sammy Jankis?" Great story. Gets better every time you tell it. So you lie to yourself to be happy. There's nothing wrong with that. We all do it. Who cares if there's a few little details you'd rather not remember?

Leonard: What the fuck are you talking about?

Teddy: I don't know. Your wife surviving the assault. Her not believing your condition. The torment and pain and anguish tearing her up inside. The insulin.

Leonard: That's Sammy, not me. I told you about Sammy.

Teddy: Yeah, right. Like you tell yourself over and over again. Conditioning yourself to remember, learning through repetition. Sammy let his wife kill herself. Sammy ended up in an institution. Sammy was a con man. A faker.

Leonard: I never said that Sammy was faking.

Teddy: You exposed him for what he was. A fraud.

Leonard: I was wrong. That's the whole point. See, Sammy's wife came to me...

Teddy: Sammy didn't have a wife. It was your wife who had diabetes.

Leonard: My wife wasn't diabetic.

Teddy: You sure?

Leonard: She wasn't diabetic. You think I don't know my own wife? What the fuck is wrong with you?

Teddy: I guess I can only make you remember the things you want to be true. Like old Jimmy down there.

Leonard: He's not the right guy.

Teddy: He was to you. Come on, you got your revenge. Enjoy it while you still remember. What difference does it make whether he was your guy or not?

Leonard: It makes all the difference.

Teddy: Why? You're never gonna know.

Leonard: Yes, I will.

Teddy: No, you won't.

Leonard: Somehow I'll know.

Teddy: You won't remember!

Leonard: When it's done, I will know.

Teddy: I thought so, too, I was sure of it, but you didn't! That's right. The real John G. I helped you find him over a year ago. He's already dead.

Leonard: Don't lie to me any more.

Teddy: Look, Lenny...I was the cop assigned to your wife's case, I believed you. I thought you deserved a chance for revenge. I'm the one that helped you find the other guy in your bathroom that night. The guy that cracked your skull and fucked your wife. We found him, you killed him. But you didn't remember. So I helped you start looking again, looking for the guy you already killed.

Leonard: Oh, yeah? So who was he?

Teddy: Just some guy. Does it matter who? No reason, Lenny, no conspiracy, just bad fucking luck. Couple of junkies too strung out to realise your wife didn't live alone. But when you killed him I was so convinced that you'd remember. But it didn't stick. Like nothing ever sticks, like this won't stick. I took that picture. Just when you did it. Look how happy you are. I wanted to see that face again.

Leonard: Oh, gee, thanks(!)

Teddy: Fuck you. I gave you a reason to live and you were more than happy to help. You don't want the truth. You make up your own truth, like your police file. It was complete when I gave it to you. Who took out the twelve pages?

Leonard: You, probably.

Teddy: No, it wasn't me, see, it was you.

Leonard: Why would I do that?

Teddy: To create a puzzle you could never solve. Do you know how many towns...how many John Gs or James Gs? I mean, shit, Lenny, I'm a fucking John G.

Leonard: Your name's Teddy.

Teddy: My mother calls me Teddy. My name's John Edward Gammell. Cheer up. There's plenty of John Gs for us to find.

  • 8
    There are really a ton of questions here... Perhaps you could consider breaking down the question? – Alenanno Jul 10 '12 at 15:09
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    What about the Tattoo "I've done it." right above the heart that we see in the flashback at the very end, always blank during the whole movie ? – oldergod Sep 14 '13 at 6:34
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    How does he remember that he can't create new long term memories, knowing that he could only know that after the loss of his memory? Perhaps an explanation is that going from normal to full disability to create new long term memories has to have happened over a certain stretch of time and during that time stretch it had to occur intermittently at least once. – Bentley4 Dec 20 '14 at 23:14
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    Yeah... there's a reason this movie doesn't hold up at ALL on a second watch. The plot makes absolutely no sense. Not a well-written movie. – ell Mar 3 '17 at 23:42
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    @Bentley4 I've been saying that for years. I thought it could have been one of the most well-thought-out movies of all time, except for this MAJOR flaw that seems to be left out of anyone's analysis of the film: He wouldn't know this about himself. Much of the what drives the plot would not happen: his explanation of his condition to everyone, his tattoos, etc. These are consequences of his awareness that he is unable to make new memories. But that is impossible. – bloomers Aug 18 '17 at 3:55
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I don't remember of a car accident, and actually I don't think it fits with the plot. Leonard gets badly injured on the head during the burglary/rape (in his house), which causes his condition. This is actually important, because the last thing he remembers is this aggression (he says so himself), so it follows logically (to him) that his wife was killed during that night. (When actually his wife died only some times later and for another reason.)

If his condition didn't originate from that night, he would have formed more memories with his wife after that, and so he would know that she wasn't killed during that night. Which is not the case, so his condition definitely started that night.

After that we can guess that the story he tells about Jenkins' wife is actually his own story (somewhat distorted), since the policeman tells him that Jenkins was actually a fraud that Leonard managed to uncover. So if the story Leonard tells about Jenkins does not really apply to Jenkins, we can suppose it actually applies to Leonard (at least partially).

So I think that for some reason his (Leonard's) wife had doubts about his condition (feared he was faking it) and decided to put him to the test, by repeatedly asking him to give her her insulin shot, which caused her death.

And now comes the most interesting (and frightening) part: confronted with the fact that he killed his own wife, Leonard can't accept it and erases the part of the report that explains what happened. And he sets up some random clues that will lead him on a false track for a wrong reason (vengeance), knowing that he will soon forget that those false clues were planted by himself. And also knowing that his last memory (of his wife) will corroborate the idea that she was murdered that night, which will validate his quest for vengeance.

So he deliberately (and successfully) manipulates himself (and kills some innocent drug dealer who was set up by Teddy to make money in the process), simply because he knows that a normal life is no longer possible for him (due to his condition as well as the death of his wife) and that he needs a simple goal (vengeance) to keep going forward, day after day.

(We can only speculate that once he killed the cop, he will repeat the process with some other random clues, in order to give his life some meaning again. ;) )

  • 2
    It's weird, the car accident didn't fit the plot, however during one of the black & white parts Lenard says: Mr Samuel R Jankis, strangest case ever. He and his wife were in this car accident, nothing serious. The doctors find some possible damage to the hippocampus, nothing conclusive. Sammy can't remember anything for more than a couple of minutes. On the other hand, in the final scene Teddy tells Lenard: I'm the one that helped you find the other guy in your bathroom that night. The guy that cracked your skull and fucked your wife. So was there a car accident? – amiregelz Jul 12 '12 at 6:43
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    I guess the car accident story is wrong because it was told by Lenard, which is not aware of him being Sammy Jenkins. He remembers the Sammy Jenkins story from repetition (he has a "Remember Sammy Jenkins" tattoo), but because he thinks of it as a different person (an insurance case), he made up the reason for his condition - car accident, even though Sammy Jenkins is actually himself and the reason for his condition is the injury from the criminals assault in his bathroom. – amiregelz Jul 12 '12 at 7:00
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    @amiregelz: I think the car accident is only related to the real Jenkins story, and doesn't really have any significance regarding what happens to Lenard himself (is it Lenard or Leonard?...). Lenard just mentions it about the Jenkins case. If we accept that Jenkins was actually a fraud, then the car accident may have really happened and was used by Jenkins as an excuse to justify his faked condition. Anyway I don't think it's an important element of the plot (it's only mentioned once if I'm not mistaken). – s427 Jul 12 '12 at 17:06
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    @KevinHowell: that's a good point. However the true Jenkins story was "recorded" by Lenard before the aggression. After that he is unable to create new memories, but maybe (probably) his brain can still "edit" existing memories. According to scientists, every time we remember something, the brain actually re-creates the memory from various pieces of information, and in the process the memory can be (and often is) slightly distorted. So the Jenkins case becomes a mix of a real case (Jenkins the fraud) and Lenard's experience. I don't think it contradicts the "can't create new memories" rule. – s427 Jul 12 '12 at 17:24
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    What about the Tattoo "I've done it." right above the heart that we see in the flashback at the very end, always blank during the whole movie ? – oldergod Sep 14 '13 at 6:43
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I think you have the events correct. Leonard was an insurance investigator not an agent, so he was already something of a detective, and the Sam Jenkins case was a real case but the man was faking it and his wife didn't die. Leonard was able to kill his wife by administering her insulin shots. My wife is a type 1 diabetic (where you inject insulin) so I can tell you there is no medical training required or prescription needed to administer her shots.

I don't remember this but I imagine with his condition and his wife dead he probably would have been in a hospital for awhile. But considering how he confuses his actual memory with the Sam Jenkins case it's possible that his hospital recovery was from the accident.

I think this last question goes a bit more into analysis of this movie so I'll keep it a bit brief for now. Leonard does remember the Sam Jenkins case since it happened before his memory problem. So "remember Sam Jenkins" will trigger his memory of the condition. There is a memory case similar to Leonard. He was known as H.M. He had a part of his hippocampus removed in order to stop his epilepsy. However, this caused him to lose the ability to form new Lon term memories. He could learn new motor abilities, but couldn't remember when he did. This is similar to the case of Leonard, where he tries to condition himself.

  • I think this line in the script really shows that his condition is actually stress and trauma induced. "I guess I can only make you remember the things you want to be true." There is no reason why he should remember Sam Jenkins the way he does or with a wife. Repetition and conditioning could only account for so much. – Kevin Howell Jul 12 '12 at 13:42
  • I suspect after killing his wife via overdose he would be institutionalized until the doctors could determine that he wasn't a danger to anyone else. I guess they were wrong. :) – David Harkness Jul 14 '12 at 6:19
1

To answer your questions, I'll start by saying every piece of information we get is questionable. The main character suffers from a memory condition and is constantly manipulated by liars. The best we can do is guess:

  1. Hard to tell when Leonard and Sam's story split, and what is made up memories, but Leonard was probably being investigated, and his condition put into question. The investigator convinced Leonard's wife he could create memories and that prompted her to test him with the insulin. Teddy says Leonard did investigate a real Sam Jenkins, and Leonard exposed him for the fraud he was. Teddy tends to lie and although I see no reason why he would in this occasion, it's up to you if you want to believe his words, or think he is working another angle.

  2. We see Leonard in the hospital in place of Sam, when he starts realizing he is Sam, which leads us to believe Leonard was in an hospital. This was probably soon after he got his condition. When the insurance refused to pay for his medical treatment, with the bills piling up he was probably forced to leave the hospital. Might have left sooner as soon as he could not improve anymore, no way to tell.

  3. Leonard knew the condition before his memory getting damaged. And memory is a very fickle thing. He somehow managed to project part of his life into his Sam's memory. That's why he knows he has Sam's condition. Repetition seems to play a role in it, although he seems to be impervious to every other form of conditioning.

0

In the end of the movie, when lenny is going to emma s tatto, we see a backward memory of him with his "wife" lying down in a bed and he has a tatto in chest say it: "i have done it" .

-1

I think he sees what he wants to see and doesn't see the things he doesn't. At the end where he has the tatto, " I did it." He was really telling himself that HE killed her but he couldn't live with it so he eased everything that said he killed her with the insulin shots, etc and he can't see the tatto on his heart.

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    I really don't think that tatto was to tell himself he killed her - or it would say "I did it", as opposed to "I've done it", which conveys a sense of accomplishment, not regret. – Sean Bone Oct 30 '14 at 20:54
  • @SeanBone Technically the only difference between those two phrases is wether the action was in a single moment or over a certain timespan. Say you broke a vase, if you swept it off the table you'd say "I did it", if you went up to the table, grabbed it and threw it on the ground "I've done it" would be more grammatically accurate. It's simple past vs past continuous if I remember my high school English class correctly. – Kevin Feb 27 at 15:20

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protected by Mistu4u Jan 31 '13 at 4:18

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