"It's an interpretation, not a record. Memories can be changed or distorted, and they're irrelevant if you have the facts."
--Leonard Shelby, Memento
My Memento Interpretation
by Susan L Whigham (contains movie spoilers)
September 16, 2007
Just saw this provocative film for the first time last night, and after reading some analyses posted by others on various websites, I felt inspired to share my own interpretation.
Let me begin by acknowledging that a number of details are provided on the official website which make the storyline of the film a little less ambiguous. The official website confirms that Leonard's wife did not die at the time of the assault but rather 9 months later (although it does not mention the cause of her death). It also reports that Leonard had escaped from a psychiatric facility almost a year after his wife's death. These details strongly suggest that Teddy was telling the truth when he told Leonard that he was confusing details of Sammy's story with his own.
Even taking into consideration this additional information from the official website, a number of questions are still left unanswered. One thing we do know for sure: Leonard was manipulated by Teddy to kill at least one person that we knew to be the wrong man. Outside of that, the movie is constructed in such a way that leaves a lot of room open for interpretation, and I think it invites us as viewers to ask ourselves what we want to believe. As for me, currently without any evidence to the contrary, I believe that Teddy really was the second intruder who was involved in the assault on the Shelbys.
I believe the most important question that begs an answer is how Teddy got involved with Leonard's case. Is he really a cop? Is he the one that provided Leonard with the case file? If so, why would he do this? Perhaps the answer is that he felt sorry for Leonard at first, and just wanted to help. Then, along the way, he was seized by opportunistic urges and began to manipulate Leonard for his own benefit. This idea seems a little strange to me, as manipulating Leonard seemed a highly dangerous game for someone bearing the name of John G. Are we to believe that Teddy was a good guy at first and then turned into a murdering sociopath just by hanging around Leonard? It seems like an unlikely catalyst for such a radical shift in character. It seems more likely to me that Teddy was trying all along to keep throwing Leonard off track in order to keep himself from getting discovered and killed.
It's possible that Teddy really was a corrupt cop, and it's also possible that he wasn't a cop at all, and had obtained the case file for Leonard through other means. It's possible that Leonard had taken pages out of the police report and marked things out on his own (to reinforce his denial of the truth about his wife's death), and it's also possible that Teddy had altered the file before giving it to Leonard, in order to avoid incriminating himself.
Where did the polaroid come from that depicted Leonard smiling and pointing to the blank spot on his chest? I believe this could have been the result of a previous murder that had been orchestrated by Teddy to lead Leonard to believe he had avenged his wife's death. Teddy had snapped the picture, planning to use it to defend himself if Leonard ever got clued in to the possibility that Teddy was the perpetrator.
What Teddy had not been prepared for was the process of karmic reconciliation being guided by Leonard's intuition. When Leonard was at the abandoned warehouse, just after he had killed Jimmy Grants, he had a moment of inspiration in his car after his interaction with Teddy, and wrote down Teddy's license plate number as one of his "facts". Some viewers believe that this was a delusion on Leonard's part, deliberately blaming Teddy simply out of anger over having been manipulated. I believe, however, that this moment was Leonard's realization that only a guilty person who subconsciously wanted to be discovered would be careless enough to follow Leonard around all over the place, manipulating him to murder other people when his own name is John Gammel (a fact alone which would cause him to be suspect in Leonard's eyes).
Are we to believe that the character of Leonard Shelby is actually a serial killer, trapped by his need for a sense of purpose into continuously seeking out new people from whom to exact revenge for the rape and murder of his wife? I don't believe this. In the last scene of the film, we see Leonard driving, during which for a brief moment before he arrives at the tattoo parlor to have the license plate tattoed on his thigh, he has a closed-eye vision of lying in bed with his wife, and tattooed on his chest in the previously empty spot is "I've done it". This to me is clear indication that he was on the right track in fingering Teddy for the crime.
I believe if the filmmakers had wanted us to believe that Leonard was made into a serial killer by this experience, we would not have been introduced into the film with the feeling of certainty that Teddy was the right man. Granted, events later on in the film are intended to cast some doubt, but I keep coming back to the reminder that Teddy was the end of the line. The story begins with Teddy's death, which means that chronologically, that is where the story ends. The story ends when the assault on the Shelbys is truly avenged. The glimpse of Catherine and Leonard together in the final scene of the movie, with "I've done it" on Leonard's chest, is a backwards foreshadowing of the closure to come from Teddy's death.
Susan Lien Whigham © 2007 All Rights Reserved
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Understanding Memento, by Johannes Duncker