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Taglines: Some memories are best forgotten.
Based on “Memento Mori” by Jonathan Nolan.
A man with short-term memory loss attempts to track down his wife’s murderer.
Leonard Shelby is an employee of an insurance company. In his free time, he searches for the criminal who killed his spouse. The situation is complicated by the fact that as a result of a head injury, a man suffers from memory loss. He remembers all events only for ten minutes, after which the memory is erased. This forces Leo to leave reminder notes everywhere, always have a pen for notes, pricking tattoos and photographs. Such methods help him to recall important and significant facts and events.
The main character is helped by a couple of people to find the killer – the girl Natalie, who sympathizes with him and Teddy. But Shelby does not trust them completely, because each of them has his own motive. From the side it seems that they know some information about the killer, but prefer to hide it. Are they implicated in that cruel crime? Leonard hopes that soon he will be able to remember everything and this will help him find the culprit on his own. Will he be able to achieve the desired, suffering from a severe form of amnesia? He is literally obsessed with the idea of avenging the death of his wife, and will make all kinds of attempts to fulfill his promise and find a man who has deprived him of his beloved.
Creators: Christopher Nolan
Director: Christopher Nolan
Star Cast: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano
Producer (s): Suzanne Todd, Jennifer Todd
Cinematographer: Wally Pfister
Music: David Julyan
Production House: Newmarket Capital Group, Team Todd, I Remember Productions
Original network / Official Sites: Newmarket, Summit Entertainment, Team Todd
Release Year: 25 May 2001 (USA)
Runtime: 113 min
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Subtitles: English, Bengali
The film starts with a Polaroid photograph of a dead man. As the sequence plays backward, the photo reverts to its undeveloped state, entering the camera before the man is shot in the head. The film then continues, alternating between black-and-white and color sequences.
The black-and-white sequences begin with Leonard Shelby, a former insurance investigator, in a motel room speaking to an unseen and unknown caller. Leonard has anterograde amnesia and is unable to store recent memories, the result of an attack by two men. Leonard explains that he killed the attacker who raped and strangled his wife, but a second clubbed him and escaped. The police did not accept that there was a second attacker, but Leonard believes the attacker’s name is “John G” or “James G”. Leonard investigates using notes, Polaroid photos, and tattoos. Leonard recalls Sammy Jankis, another anterograde amnesiac, from his insurance industry days. After tests confirmed Sammy’s inability to learn tasks through repetition, Leonard believed that his condition was at best psychological (and perhaps faked) and turned down his insurance claim. Sammy’s distraught wife repeatedly asked Sammy to administer her insulin shots for her diabetes, hoping he would remember and would stop himself from giving her a fatal overdose. However, Sammy continued to administer the injections, and his wife died.
The color sequences are shown reverse-chronologically. In the story’s chronology, Leonard self-directively gets a tattoo of John G’s license plate. Finding a note in his clothes, he meets Natalie, a bartender who resents Leonard because he wears the clothes and drives the car of her boyfriend, Jimmy Grantz. After understanding Leonard’s condition, she uses it to get Leonard to drive a man named Dodd out of town and offers to run the license plate as a favor. Meanwhile, Leonard meets with a contact, Teddy, who helps with Dodd, but warns about Natalie. Leonard finds that he had previously annotated his Polaroid of Teddy, warning himself not to trust him. Natalie provides Leonard with the driver’s license for a John Edward Gammell, Teddy’s full name. Confirming Leonard’s information on “John G” and his warnings, Leonard drives Teddy to an abandoned building, leading to the opening, where he shoots him.
In the final black-and-white sequence, prompted by the caller, Leonard meets with Teddy, an undercover officer, who has found Leonard’s “John G,” Jimmy, and directs Leonard to the abandoned building. When Jimmy arrives, Leonard strangles him fatally and takes a Polaroid photo of the body. As the photo develops, the black-and-white transitions to the final color sequence. Leonard swaps clothes with Jimmy, hearing him whisper “Sammy.” As Leonard has only told Sammy’s story to those he has met, he suddenly doubts Jimmy’s role. Teddy arrives and asserts that Jimmy was John G, but when Leonard is undeterred, Teddy claims that he helped him kill the real attacker a year ago, and he has been using Leonard ever since. Teddy points out that since the name “John G” is common, Leonard will cyclically forget and begin again and that even Teddy himself has a “John G” name. Further, Teddy claims that Sammy’s story is Leonard’s own story, a memory Leonard has repressed to escape guilt.
After hearing Teddy confess all of this, Leonard burns the photograph of dead Jimmy and in a monologue explains that he is willing to lie to himself in order to get justice against anyone who has wronged him. He therefore targets Teddy by ordering a tattoo of Teddy’s license plate number and writing a note to himself that Teddy is not to be trusted so that he will mistake Teddy for John G. and kill him. Leonard drives off in Jimmy’s car, confident that, despite this lie, he will retain enough awareness of the world to know that his actions have consequences.