At this point, Christopher Nolan is a virtually common name when it comes to filmmaking. Giving hits such as Inception, Interstellar, and The Dark Knight, Nolan gained wide acclaim from his film Memento. Memento is a mind-bending psychological thriller about a man on a revenge quest for his wife. The only problem is – he has anterograde amnesia or short-term memory loss.
What is anterograde amnesia?
Anterograde amnesia is a mental condition in which a person is unable to form new memories. For example, they may start a conversation with someone and forget why they started the conversation at all. It’s as if everything fades. Having this condition doesn’t mean the person will forget their identity and other details. It just means the person will cease to remember anything and everything that happens to them after the condition sets in, and the events from before the condition started will still be remembered by them.
However, having anterograde amnesia doesn’t mean the end of life, although it does make it severely difficult. People with this condition execute different strategies, such as writing down notes. Leading a routine life helps them cope up and do daily important tasks. In the end, they require a well-defined system to operate and live their lives.
Leonard Shelby and anterograde amnesia
The condition of Leonard Shelby makes him an unreliable narrator in Memento, giving us an insight into how it feels like suffering from anterograde amnesia. He talks about how a system is much needed by a person in his position. He makes and keeps notes, clicks Polaroids and marks them, and tattoos concrete facts on his body.
Leonard also talks about “conditioning”, which is learning by repetition. He trained his mind to execute some things automatically by taking notes and taking Polaroids. Such as how exactly does Leonard even remember his condition? By reminding himself, again and again, to tell others about his condition, Leonard has learned about his condition. By conditioning, he remembers to make notes and take photographs wherever he goes.
One of the things Leonard accomplished through conditioning is retelling the story of Sammy Jankis. In the climax, Teddy tells Leonard that Sammy Jankis’ wife getting overdosed on insulin is a fake story. In reality, Leonard was the one who overdosed on his wife. It’s possible Leonard, through the repetition of the fake story, conditioned himself into rewriting his own memory. After all, Leonard does call memory unreliable.
Memento and anterograde amnesia
Another amazing way that Memento conveys the feeling of short-term memory loss to its viewers is through its structure. With the end of the story being the beginning of the film and the beginning of the story being the end of the film, Memento shows its events backward. In some way, this conveys to us exactly what Leonard feels when his memory fades. We don’t know how Leonard got to a place, exactly like how Leonard himself doesn’t know that. We feel the same confusion as him every time his memory fades, with the only key difference being that he goes forward with the events while we go backward.
Memento successfully makes us feel what it’s like being in Leonard’s or Sammy’s place. Its portrayal of anterograde amnesia has been praised over the years and is considered the most accurate depiction. It’s only for Christopher Nolan’s masterful direction that this film became the psychological masterpiece it is today.