This example models the agency of a key object in the film, a clock. The fictitious viewer is Sally Mindler.
The key cinematic device of concern in this example is the conveyance of information within the narrative, its dynamic and effect. We focus on the agency of an object in the film (the clock), and its associated situations.
At the moment of the example, we have seen a bit over an hour of the movie. We are presented with a certain object, a bedside clock that appears to be the key memento.
Memento Example 1 Background
Sally Mindler comes to Memento for the first time.
She has a detailed knowledge of Following, which is Nolan’s previous and first film. It also is a puzzle film with a novel structure that features
- shifted time
- shifting characters controlling other characters
- memories being manipulated, and
- exploration of personal mementos
The main character in that film is fed a false narrative.
Based on what she knows of the first Nolan film and what she has heard of the second, she will expect and understand something like this in Memento.
Following of 1998 is Christopher Nolan's first film and for a few years after was a cult favorite. It is the kind of movie that a casual viewer will understand simply but a serious viewer will see complex puzzles that need to be solved, requiring repeated viewings. Sally knows it well.
In that film, a con game is going on among characters, more than one as it happens. There is also the explicit notion that you can reify a person‘s memories (and therefore their identity) by valuing their special mementos enough to break into their house to examining or steal them. The protagonist steals several things from a certain victim, the blond.
Some inference is made that the obsession of the voyeur-thieves and the lives they invade being similar to us as the movie watchers, following them.
This narrative is punctuated by a shuffling of time. The protagonist follows people, and eventually goes into their homes (an idea from Kar Wai Wong's Chun King Express, which Sally also knows.).
We as viewers also follow the story with the main character, but Nolan has re-arranged the time sequence for us. This has the effect of performing a con on us the viewers, with (in retrospect) key narrative futures promoted by the time confusion.
Therefore the fact that the follower steals a clock is significant.
The whole thing is framed by a detective (played by Nolan’s uncle), to whom our protagonist narrates. The detective is fooled where we are not.
Our viewer Sally knows these things.
It is the situation she brings into Memento. She is therefore alert for:
- playing with time and clocks
- objects as mementos being tied to the notion of identity, and in fact she will be wondering what the object is that is the memento in question (the memento of the title), and why it matters
- both of these will be associated with carefully engineered shuffling of scenes
So Far in Sally's Memento
The example focuses on Sally's state a little over an hour into the movie. That state has been built by what she brings to the watching (before starting) and what she has watched so far. This section presents what she finds as key elements of the film leading to our moment of interest. For her, a key element is a fact about what objects are mementos. A summary of this section is in thisparenthetical.
A casual reader will want to skip to the next section, where she draws some conclusions based on what appears then in the context of the tentative interpretations outlined here.
Bullets as Mementos?
Is the Wedding Ring a Candidate?
Mementos as 'The System'
More about Mementos
Natalie Gives New Mementos
Leonard as a Memento
We Hear a Clock-like Drone
A Clock Sounds
Sammy Was Tested for Months
Leonard Burns Some Mementos
The Clock from the Previous Film
Other Information Has Been Destroyed
The Mementos in Situ
These film experiences build a case in Sally's mind for the upcoming moment that we model a little over an hour into the film. There, Sally sees the clock again in a complex context where it has agency, relating to Leonard's conditioning as well as the (probably false) murder.
Sally is looking for objects to anchor her understanding of objects having agency in the story. After several false starts, she finds one in a certain clock that appears. This is the very clock that she knows played a central role in Following, the Nolan brothers' previous film.
The role this clock plays in Memento is profound, according to Sally's view.
The Clock in Question
The Clock from the Previous Film
The embodiment of time is rather obvious, as is the connection with the previous film. This allows Sally to develop her own folded narratives:
- A meta-narrative from Following about viewers as voyeurs who capture time and memory in objects.
- An interpretive narrative about how Leonard is controlled by his deceased wife through objects, and his escape from that control by destroying those objects.
- A tentative connection to Alice in Wonderland where mirrors and time as clocks are conflated.
Sally's Memento Instant
The instant we model here is when the prostitute lifts the clock and brush, revealing that the clock has a mirror on the back. We already know that the clock has profound significance, and here we discover this key feature.
The Clock Again
So, at this moment, Sally has the expectation that mementos matter. The clock is clearly significant, having been pulled from a past even outside the film itself. It is linked with his wife’s murder, which at this point is still largely a mystery.
It seems to have had the mirror added, plus the scene to convey special meaning. This scene is about using reflective mementos to recall things in order to change agency over the narrative, something Sally knows by now is part of the system.
The prostitute arrives and Leonard tells her a routine that he cannot have remembered if the rules of his condition are followed. This underscores that something important is happening. We see the mementos dumped out of the same bag we saw earlier when they were later destroyed: the book, brush, bear, bra and clock.
He asks her to place them around. We see for the first time the bra (we had previously seen only a burning garment) and recall that we saw the wife wearing it in flashbacks. Perhaps, Sally thinks, there is a point being made that the clock is the only thing not starting with a B. Sally remembers some things about reversed time said earlier that were remarkably like Alice in Wonderland and she recalls The Hunting of the Snark, where everything but the snark started with a B. The clock must be important.
The prostitute, acting like they are her objects, picks up the clock, which we see has a mirror on its back, and holds it to see while she brushes her hair. Sally immediately think of the clock and looking-glass at the beginning of Through the Looking-glass. We know that this clock memento will be destroyed in some attempt to break a mirror-time cycle. Perhaps the other mementos indicate meaning as well. It cannot be an accident, for instance, that we know Teddy to have been the murderer and one of the objects to be a Teddy bear.
It is this moment of the handling of the clock, that we model as the moment in our first example.
The Entire Scene
What We Might Expect Happens Next
In Following we had a real triple twist involving the woman who had the clock. Known as the blond, she was a sort of prostitute, involved with drugs. She conned the hero — a fellow much like Leonard. So Sally might expect that this prostitute is not an incidental character, and that she is somehow behind things. There was a drug ring in Following. Possibly the prostitute and Natalie are connected through Jimmy. The hotel is used as a drug house? Drugs is the constant theme. Maybe Leonard’s condition is related to or caused by drugs?
Dodd may not be an incidental character either. As it actually happens, we see neither Dodd nor the prostitute again, but we do not know this at the moment we are in. Teddy may get burnt.
In Following there was a higher level con going on that ended up tricking and killing the blond. Perhaps there is a higher level conspiracy going on here, Sally concludes. Perhaps there are more Alice in Wonderland clues that Sally needs to be alert for, more reversals and logical quirks. The clock may have been connected, for example, to the spilled blue bath salts that dramatically were introduced when the clock was.
Maybe with the book burning reversal and the drugs and the mirrors, we will see some or discover some disconnect from reality — what we are seeing may turn out to be a drug vision or delusion. This opens up all sorts of plastic possibilities making this the highest point of cloudiness in the movie for Sally so far as quantum possibilities for future direction.