Memento directed by Christopher Nolan, follows the tradition of film noir by telling the story backwards which results in a mind boggling murder mystery. Nolan’s innovative narrative technique sets this film apart. For example, Nolan uses black and white film to indicate flashbacks. Nolan is a remarkable storyteller and utilizes a complicated narrative structure made up of unordered scenes which move the audience to question the truth of the story and what really happened. However, Nolan uses subtle clues throughout the story to guide the audience though this labyrinth. In order to follow the story, the viewer must pay close attention to every scene and be an active spectator in order to understand the plot. Since the movie leaves out a lot of details, the audience is left with a sense of uncertainty. What really happened? What characters should we trust? Who killed Leonard’s wife or did she even die? Is Leonard himself crazy and is this all in his head in order to give his life a sense of purpose? Leonard is a psychological case and the main character who suffers an identity crisis in which he can’t create any new memories. In order to aid his short term memory loss, he takes polaroid pictures and writes messages on the back in order to remember things like his car, the hotel he stays at, and the people involved in his mission to hunt down his wife’s murder. Unlike everyone else, Leonard can only rely on the tangible signs of peoples' identity, for example their name.
In order to further Leonard’s investigation, he organizes the clues about his wife’s murder by keeping track of the “facts” through the use of these polaroid pictures with short excerpts on the back, and also refers to a folder filled with police reports, paperwork etc. and his own handwritten notes about the case. Leonard only relies on “facts” not memories because memories can be distorted versions of the truth. In order to focus on the facts, Leonard tattoos the most important “facts” onto his body, because he sees this method as a way of writing a permanent note to remember his mission’s purpose. The messages or signs tattooed on Leonard’s body remind him who he is, and define him.
This postmodern concept of identity as being mostly made up of signs is a major theme in Memento. Furthermore, two Freudian concepts which relate to the film and specifically Leonard are the story of Oedipus and being an obsessional neurotic. The Oedipus story is a classic example of an identity crisis but unlike Oedipus who actually found out who he really was, the man who killed his father and slept with his mother, Leonard never seems to figure out his true identity. He thinks he is still the person he was before the “accident” the incident when his wife was supposedly raped and murdered. However, Leonard does represent the post-Freudian Oedipus-esque realization that a person’s identity is a blank slate until those particular, unique, and characteristic signs are incorporated to make up an individual’s identity. However, regarding obsessional neurotic tendencies definitely characterize Leonard. At the end of the film, the audience is worried about him possibly continuing his killing spree. Furthermore, Leonard could be easily taken advantage of from all of the characters in the story since he doesn’t remember anything recent. As a result, it would be quite simple to manipulate Leonard that you found his wife’s murderer (when really it could be your own enemy or just a dirty cop who needs to kill a criminal to cover his tracks). Unfortunately, Leonard doesn’t feel like he has killed his wife’s murderer even after he might have already, the audience is left to question if he really did or not. These two Freudian concepts, the story of Oedipus and an obsessional neurotic are related concepts and unfortunately Leonard suffers from both Freudian theories.