Friday, October 4, 2013

Film Adaptations: Memento

Christopher Nolan achieves an interweaving film adaptation from his brother, Jonathan Nolan’s, short story, Memento Mori.  The main narrative of Memento is shown in color and this narrative goes in reverse chronological order.  The black and white narrative is then told in chronological order.  These two narratives are a sujet narrative consideration and each one helps the audience receive a new piece of information about the task at hand.  This allows Nolan to play with our perceptions of the characters. At the beginning their motivations seem very clear, but at the end we just can not be sure.  Christopher Nolan does an excellent job of taking material directly from his brother’s short story and implementing the imagery in his film.  He takes the images of staircases, needles, and in many cases, what’s going on in Lenny’s head from the short story and recreates the vision through specific scenes in Memento.


The short story is full of subtle clues hinting that Earl is on a murder spree. The vague, subtle hints in the short story are translated into dialogue and narration in the film, making the premise of the story clearer – that he has been manipulated into murdering many men under the impression that they are his wife’s killer. Through dialogue and Christopher’s addition of the character Teddy, it is explained to us that Lenny is a serial killer, even though he doesn’t know he is. In both works, Earl/Lenny manipulates himself through the use of notes and tattoos. Since he cannot remember what he’s doing most of the time, his notes tell him he is on a mission to kill a man. Throughout the short story, there are many subtle indications that Earl has killed before, and what his motives are in doing so. Since time does not pass for him, neither does his grief and anger for his wife’s death. This never-ending feeling of the same emotions urge him to avenge his wife’s killer. And so this becomes his purpose in his new life. Without someone to find and kill, he has no purpose. And so he continues to find and kill men in a continuous cycle that he cannot remember. The short story discretely conveys this, while the film makes it more obvious.


In the short story, Earl uses tattoos as permanent reminders to himself about his mission. His tattoos serve as lists of his accomplishments regarding his investigation and things he still has left to do. They include facts about the man he is searching for. This is true for both the short story and the film. In the film, we are given a visual of his tattooed body and can read the tattoos for ourselves as Lenny reads them. The film uses the tattoos as a strong method of manipulation into searching for a murderer. Lenny believes anything that is written on his body. It is the easiest way for him to lie to himself. The film adds some tattoos not mentioned in the short story, once again clearing up some indirect things that raise questions in the short story. Not only does Lenny permanently mark himself with lethal lies, he also displays one indicator of his lies on his bicep. “Memory is treachery.” This tattoo is not part of the literary work, but it is a direct reference to the theme of the story – memory is untrustworthy.

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