Head Trauma In Memento, A Film By Christopher Nolan

1851 words - 7 pages

“I have this condition,” repeats Leonard Shelby, the leading character of Memento, a film by Christopher Nolan. In the psychological thriller, Leonard has a condition that does not allow him to make new memories. The condition was caused by head trauma; the result of trying to protect his wife from being killed by the thieves who broke into his house and raped his wife. He is doomed to a live a life by following mementos--- his pictures, notes, and tattoos. Leonard’s single life mission is to find and kill his wife’s murderer. However, his condition allows him to seek vengeance over and over again. As a result, there is not only a barrier between Leonard and reality, but also a barrier between Leonard and the understanding of himself. Rooted in this confusing film is an important philosophical study of identity. How does the ability to make memories contribute to the idea of one’s identity? Can Leonard have an identity if he has lost this ability? These questions can be explored through the perspectives of John Locke, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant. Their philosophical theories of identity and the self involve a close study of the conscious mind. However, when studying only this level of self, it is difficult to argue that Leonard has an identity. Leonard’s identity can best be supported when one also considers Sigmund Freud’s theory of a multilayered self, which allows one to look deeper, beyond the conscious level to what seethes underneath.
Before Freud, there was a lack of philosophical consideration for the unconscious---the foundational driver of one’s desires. However, to best look at Leonard’s identity in this Freudian light, one should trace the historical progression of the study of the multilayered self, and first question Leonard’s identity in terms of only the conscious self. The 17th Century philosopher, John Locke believed that personal identity is achieved by the self-conscious and one’s memory of this self-conscious. As an early empiricist, Locke defines the self-conscious as a combination of sense perception, “what we see, hear, smell, taste, feel,” and the thinking process. Leonard is still in tune with his sense experience. In a black and white scene, Leonard studies his surrounding. He narrates, “So where are you? You’re in some motel room. You just wake up and you’re in a hotel room. There’s a key. It feels like maybe it’s just the first time you’ve been there, but perhaps you’ve been there for a week, three months…It’s just an anonymous room.” Though he doesn’t realize that this motel room has been his home, he is feeling the keys with his hand, hearing them cling between his fingers, as his eyes search the room for answers. While his condition does not allow him to become familiar with his surroundings, he can still interpret by using the thinking process. Thus, Leonard’s self-consciousness is still intact by Locke’s standard. Yet, using Locke’s theory to support the existence of Leonard’s...

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