Essays on cinematic narrative. The focus is a set of dynamics collected under the concept of folding, a related system of techniques to model agency and causality.

Memento (2000) Example 3

Published: 15 Feb 2014

The example in this case models the agency of spatial relationships and how the narrative responds to their influence. The nature of place and who determines the place is significant.

The fictitious viewer in this case is one Grey Singleton. The instant we model here is less than a third of the way through the running time and concerns a complex event around renting a motel room.


This is the earliest of the three examples in movie-time at [0:26:17]. Grey doesn’t have much information about what actually happens yet, but he is sure that space is significant and has expectations that space is key to understanding the movie.

He knows that Room 21 at the “discount” is important, but that a future Leonard has been operating out of Room 304 located across the way. He has seen both now and knows that Burt (the hotel clerk) would be key to shuffling them.

At the moment we model, Burt says: “Leonard, always get a receipt,” a memento.

(Another good time for a space/Burt example would be [1:17:37]. Leonard has just been listening to the room next door through a glass. Burt comes to the door and tells Leonard that there is a policeman on the phone. By this time, the importance of space has many more indicators — like the confusion between rooms 9 and 6 at the other hotel. But other examples are strong by this point as well, and we wanted an example early in the movie-time.)

Memento Example 3 Background

Grey worries about who is shaping the space that influences events.

Grey Singleton comes to the film for the first time, just like the others. In this case, he has no pre-existing knowledge of Nolan or Memento. He is, however, a sophisticated movie viewer with an alert mind.

Grey knows Kubrick and Malick and has read that Malick's The Thin Red Line was a primary influence on Nolan. He believes he is an ideal viewer to play the game that Nolan sets up because he can catch many of the clues, dead ends and tentative futures in the structure.

The key cinematic situations of this example focus on space as an organizing principle, because that is what Malick and Kubrick used, and which Grey understands.

The motel in particular is of interest in certain scenes with Burt (the motel clerk) as an associated or surrogate agent. Interesting facts are:

  • The place (Discount Inn) is to be discounted.
  • It is where Teddy placed Leonard, twice. (Also Natalie.)
  • The maps Leonard makes seem significant.
  • Sammy Jankis has a test 'map.'
  • There is a peculiar shaped reminder on Leonard’s chest.

We therefore model some dynamics associated with Burt, the motel and location in general.

What We Have Seen

(The time markers here are when a cited scene begins.)

[02:34] (black and white) “Where am I?” is first question, so you know there is a spatial as well as a temporal disorientation. You see the key to room 21.

[02:57] (color) The motel sign is deliberately shown at [3:21], indicating this early in the game that it matters. “Discount?” Are we to discount it? Basement as related to identity, because Teddy says: “Let’s go down into the basement. Then you’ll know who you really are.”

[06:26] (black and white) Primed to think about space, we notice Leonard look out at room 304.

[07:01] (color) We might have caught the different room thing because in this scene, only seconds after Leonard looks at room 304, he leaves room 304. We learn more — pretty much all we need to for the rest of the movie — about his memory condition except for details of system. We suspect that space has something to do with the system.

[11:06] (color) We see the key to and photo of the Discount Inn.

[16:58] (color) Natalie gives key to motel room 304, and we should notice the difference from 21 now. There has to be a significance in choosing the woman from “Matrix,” which has a spatially driven narrative. She asks how the “discount” is treating him.

[22:18] (black and white) In talking about his role as an investigator — which he and we are now — he says at [22:49] that truth “is all about context.” Around now we will be wondering who is taking care of Leonard. It could be someone in the motel.

[22:56] (color) Leonard says: “Facts, not memories” which he knows because he is/was and investigator. “ [24:09] “Memory can change the shape of a room.” Burt always calls Leonard “Leonard,” the only one who does. While less manipulative, it is noticeable enough to be a cover for some sneakiness, which we discover that exists in the double renting. Here at [26:17] is where the number three example is rooted. We know Burt shuffles the spaces now. And we have to assume that space matters, and perhaps has agency, that perhaps it was Burt on the phone. Burt just says: “Leonard, always get a receipt,” a memento.

What Grey Thinks Might Happen Next

Grey knows that Burt is key to controlling the space.

Grey supposes several things. Burt is in the mold of the motel clerk in “Psycho” mold and since Grey knows Nolan venerates the masters, he might guess some unexpected behavior of Burt will soon surprise. The Inn could end up being a crazy place, perhaps with scrambled physics. Burt (Grey believes) is the master manipulator and may be in cahoots with another character we have met.

In any case, Grey knows already that the two location of the two spaces are where most of the action will occur: the two motel rooms, and the upstairs/downstairs of the abandoned warehouse.

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© copyright Ted Goranson, 2014