Plot Holes: Memento
(Plot Holes is an occasional feature that points out narrative lapses in the movies. It gives away crucial plot points, so stop reading now if you're planning to see Memento.)
The plot of Memento— an insurance investigator named Leonard (Guy Pearce) searches for the rapist-murderer of his wife while suffering from a bizarre memory disorder—is so full of twists that one leaves the theater blinking and stupefied. So if Leonard was Sammy, then Sammy ... never existed? Or was Teddy lying at the end? Or neither? You either need a) astute friends with whom you can wrangle over the plot at a good coffee shop afterward; b) the as-yet unreleased DVD, which will hopefully allow you to watch the movie in chronological order; or c) to return to the theater and see it all again.
Or you could d) read this column. We'll try to sort out the plot and its problems. Such as:
IfLeonard has short-term memory loss, how does he remember ... ? (Part 1)
Since the injury, Leonard can't make new memories. He gets by with snapping Polaroids, writing himself notes, and tattooing relevant facts on his body—the most prominent being "John G. raped and murdered my wife." Now we'll let go of the fact that Leonard always remembers he has a condition (file it under "Suspension of disbelief," or see "What is memory anyway?" below for another theory). But how does he know the importance of the thick file on his wife's rape? Does he read it every morning? If not, how does he remember his disagreement with the cops about the second rapist?
How does Natalie ( Carrie-Ann Moss) always know when Leonard's memory is about to go blank?
Leonard's short-term memory seems to last a couple of hours. At one point, for example, he travels to the Discount Inn, checks into a room, calls an escort service, waits patiently for the escort to show up, explains what he wants, then goes to sleep. Yet twice (when she spits in his beer, and when she lies about Dodd) Natalie acts malicious in front of him, goes off humming to herself for less than a minute, then returns knowing he won't remember her maliciousness. He doesn't.
Shouldn'tLeonardact more like an insurance investigator and less likePhilipMarlowe?
Every time he wakes up or his post-assault memory goes blank, Leonard should become what he was before the injury: a simple insurance investigator. Yet whether being chased by a gun-toting Dodd or being surprised by Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) in his Jag, Leonard acts like a character out of film noir. He knows how to load and use an automatic. He picks Dodd's motel room door with a credit card. He tattoos himself in bed with needles and pen ink. Are these talents he picked up in the insurance biz?
Where did the rape-murder of his wife actually take place?
Erik Lundegaard has written for the New York Times, the Believer, and MSNBC.
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