10

One of the most serious issues dealt with in Christopher Nolan's Memento, is the grasp of time -- the hero seems to be "lost in time". Throughout the entire picture the audience, and the hero himself, struggle to understand how much time has passed since the accident, which caused his condition. Which basically means - how much time has passed since he started this intensive "quest".

When the movie just starts, the audience tends to think that this whole situation is considerably "fresh"; but as the plot progresses (or actually, goes backwards), one might consider the un-optimistic fact that this "quest" might be taking place for years, and maybe the real goal was reached a long time ago, but for some reason (maybe a third party's interest, or a selfish decision) the hero is trapped in a "loop". I mean, he can't really trust his notes, Polaroid photographs and tattoos for this matter, because they all could be theoretically "sabotaged" to serve someone's interest. In the ending scenes it is even implied that it might have been the hero himself, who "sabotaged" his path in order to continue this quest; due to the fact that without this "noble" cause, his scarred existence will be empty of purpose.

This situation is very chaotic indeed, and very hard to grasp - but, when thinking about this situation - the most logical thing to do is to obsessively record dates.

I mean, he works with all those kinds of police paperwork, regarding his wife's murder, and all of those papers should have dates on them (and also the tattoos), and If they don't have dates on them by default - it's really easy to find them. It's very easy to find out exactly how much time he's on this quest and it's very easy to know the exact date and time at any given moment (a hand watch with a date function, for example).

How come this easy solution is not considered and the hero just "floats", lost in time?

  • Wouldn't have been much story if he already knew the running order, would there? – disassociated Dec 22 '16 at 13:42
10

I don't think Lenny really cares how much time has passed. He's on a quest for revenge, whether that takes a month, a year or a decade. He intends to keep going until he succeeds, so while the dates may be useful in establishing a more concrete timeline, they aren't going to make a difference to the one question he really cares about - "is it done?"

Of course, given Lenny's condition, dates are not really any more reliable than the other records he keeps. If his notes, polaroids and tattoos are all theoretically open to sabotage (especially by himself), then why wouldn't the dates also be open to similar sabotage? Handwritten dates on paper or polaroids could be erased, or recorded incorrectly. Perhaps the method he uses to establish the date could be unreliable (ie: someone, possibly himself, edits the police report to change the dates.)

Dates in tattoos might make him realize he's been on the hunt longer than he would otherwise be aware, but again, he doesn't care how long it takes, only that he finds his revenge. Knowing a particular clue is X years old would only make him more desperate and motivated to find SOMEONE he can kill and call it "justice." And, of course, if he is sabotaging his own progress in order to continue killing, this desperation would get stronger over successive loops, but it wouldn't likely stop him from trying.

Speaking more generally about the movie as a whole, I think a lot of this is intended as commentary on human motivation and the dichotomy between belief and fact. People tend to believe what they want to believe, even in the face of factual data that contradicts that belief. They can sometimes come up with some truly mind-boggling excuses for why the offending facts should be disregarded. This is especially true when a person's beliefs are strongly tied to a goal or driving motivation that they consider to be a sort of "life's work." Admitting the flawsin their belief then becomes equivalent to admitting their purpose in life is somehow incorrect, which is something very few people are actually willing to do.

Lenny's quest for revenge is an extreme example, of course. Movies use extreme examples of things because they tend to make for better drama. Lenny's quest has become his life's purpose - to find and kill the man who murdered his wife. But once that job is done, he no longer has a purpose. This, coupled with his memory condition, is what leads him to continue the cycle. So that he still has a reason to keep living, even with his crippling mental condition. Given that, I don't think the use of dates (or any other 'solution') would be sufficient to stop him. He'd either find an excuse to doubt the dates and thus stop trusting them, or he'd come up with progressively more insane theories to explain what "must have happened" using the dates he has, given whatever the current date is.

  • Steve, thanks for the detailed answer. I'll comment - you've said that Lenny doesn't care how much time have actually passed, he only cares about one thing, and it's revenging his wife's death (and his condition). I think that this point and the 2nd point (the one I've mentioned, and you also did at the 2nd part of your answer) -- basically contradict each other. If he cares about revenge -- he should stop when he's done (which we know he didn't); If he subconsciously wants to "go on" and have a "purpose" to his existence, he'll erase the memory of his "success" (as he did, at least once). – golosovsky Dec 28 '16 at 13:50
  • As I commented on @Knetic's answer: at the final scenes of the movie Lenny chose to "erase" the memory of his successful revenge. At this very moment, he actually believed that he's looking at a picture which commemorates his revenge (we know, of course, that there's a high possibility that he was misled by the "cop" to kill the wrong man). At this moment, he believes that the man he's chasing is already dead - that his quest is done. But he consciously chooses to "forget" this, in order to continue "having a purpose". – golosovsky Dec 28 '16 at 14:05
2

To add to Steve-O's excellent answer;

Keeping track of time would be the worst thing Lenny could do. His entire world is anchored in his wife's death, he forgets everything after it, and rarely brings anything up that happened before it. His entire motivation is revenge for his wife's death, and the only way he sustains himself is by keeping that anger fresh - it fuels every interaction he has.

If he ever found out he'd been at this for years without a single success, it's all too possible to become demoralized. He'd question his purpose, his existence. If he hasn't found the killer after all these years, why would he find him now? Is he on the right path? He might even go in circles, trying to find out why he hasn't found the killer - all of these things are completely unproductive. Lenny doesn't want questions, he wants answers.

So the question isn't why doesn't he keep track of time, but rather why would he?

  • I got your point, it's pretty logical, BUT you can't forget the final scenes of the movie which basically contradicts this point -- Lenny chose to "erase" the memory of his successful revenge. At this very moment, he actually believed that he's looking at a picture which commemorates his revenge (we know, of course, that there's a high possibility that he was misled by the "cop" to kill the wrong man). At this moment, he believes that the man he's chasing is already dead - that his quest is done. But he consciously chooses to "forget" this, in order to continue "having a purpose". – golosovsky Dec 28 '16 at 14:04
  • 1
    Yes, I think that reinforces my point. He knew that his purpose was a lie, and yet he chose to keep doing it - because he had nothing else to do. Again, his whole identity was now centered around his crusade, and he wants it that way. He wouldn't keep track of time any more than he'd keep track of the picture because he wants a purpose. He's not interested in anything that would give him doubts. – Knetic Dec 29 '16 at 18:26

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .