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An analysis of the psychological and philosophical effects of fallible memory and how it is presente


In the penultimate scene of Six Feet Under Claire Fisher says goodbye to her family and takes a photo of them as a memento before she leaves for New York. As she gathers them around and frames the shot, the ‘ghost’ of her dead brother Nate tells her “You can’t take a picture of this, it’s already gone.” (HBO 2001-2005). This is not only a comment on the fleeting nature of time, but also humankind’s desire to preserve it in what Andre Bazin referred to as ‘The Mummy Complex.’ This complex, as identified by Bazin “helps us to remember the subject and to preserve him from a second spiritual death” (Bazin 1945) an act deemed necessary due to the fallibility of memory – not only that of man, but of the individual themselves.

Bazin’s journal article The Ontology of the Photographic Image details how the general function of art is “the preservation of life by a representation of life” (Bazin 1945). He also posits that the “plastic arts” (photography and cinema) are superior to other mediums such as painting, because of photography’s “power of the impassive mechanical process”[i]. Its inherent impartiality “does not create eternity, as art does, it embalms time, rescuing it from it’s proper corruption.”

Cinema, being the art of the moving image, also ‘embalms time’. While photography preserves singular moments in time, cinema preserves the passing of time. This is because cinema controls time for the audience in a way that almost every other art form does not – when someone views a painting, there is no set duration that they must view the painting for all of its content to be revealed; but a film is only unfolded through the passing of time because it is in a continual 24fps shift for the duration of the film strip. As Todd McGowan stated: “the absence of a live recording of a film forces every film to thematise time, regardless of whether the film wishes it.” (McGowan 2011)

The inherent theme of temporality once again draws parallels between cinema and human memory. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman theorises the idea that consciousness is split between the experiencing self and the remembering self: “the remembering self is a storyteller. And that really starts with a basic response of our memories --it starts immediately. We don't only tell stories when we set out to tell stories. Our memory tells us stories, that is, what we get to keep from our experiences is a story.” (Kahneman 2010) In essence, human memory works in a similar way to a filmic narrative: events occur one after the other in a causal line.

Due to the implicit links between film and memory, memory is a widely used narrative device in film, being used to provide exposition from a different temporal location in a visual way, by means of flashback. Citizen Kane (Welles 1941) is a classic example: as each character recounts their memories of Charles Foster Kane, instead of merely showing them talk about him (as would occur in literature), the narrative shifts in temporal location to show the events that the character describes. However, this is an example of flashbacks that are to be seen as objective and honest; in reality human memory is very unreliable: events are lost, details altered and perceptions coloured and, as such, many films explore fallible memory as a theme.

This essay will analyse films that explore fallible memory through both the content of their stories, and the form in which they are presented in order to fully examine the effect the filmic medium has on the ideas of the links between memory and identity. To provide focus, this essay will examine the elements of narrative construction as put forward by Gerard Gennette (Genette 1983) - these being order, duration and frequency.

The restructuring of narrative order is especially prevalent in film due to its ability to seamlessly move from image to image via the process of editing; allowing the filmmaker to create a story through mere visuals[ii]. The use of montage has been a staple of filmic narrative since its inception and is the key thing that separates it from other narrative mediums such as literature. Not only does the use of montage allow us to create meaning within one location, it also allows the author to shift both the temporal and geographical location with just as much ease. Therefore many films follow an atemporal structure, specifically the ones examined in this essay.

Duration is one of the most important elements of film when regarding it as a specific medium. As specifically stated, film is one of the only artistic mediums that has a set duration. This control over the duration allows films to control how time is presented in cinema: whether that be truncated or expanded through editing, or shown in its true form with long takes.

Another element of cinema that differentiates it from other art forms in relation to the notions of memory is frequency. While mediums such as music and dance enable elements to repeat, they will always be inherently different: a beat off here, a variation in gesture there whereas cinema can repeat images verbatim simply by copying and pasting sections[iii]. Repetition has always been an important element in art, cinema in particular, as it creates emphasis and allows for closer examination.

By examining the relationship between the intrinsic features of film, and the stories told through them, we can establish the philosophical and psychological implications of using this medium to explore fallible memory.


This essay has already outlined the basic principles of montage and narrative order, but let us examine further the notions of Soviet Formalism in order to analyse the relationship between the medium of film and fallible memory. Russian formalists identified the distinction between the fabula (the story) and the syuzhet (the arrangement in which it is presented). The audience constructs the fabula based on the information presented by the syuzhet; sometimes this is an easy process, other times it is more complicated due to the limited flow of information put forward by the artist. Rear Window (Hitchcock, 1954) is a classic example of the discourse between story and form to the point of it being a metaphor for it: Jeff attempts to determine whether or not a man across the courtyard has murdered his wife, based on the brief glimpses he sees through his telephoto lens. The murder mystery across the courtyard is the story, the fabula that Jeff must construct; however it is only possible to construct this based on what is viewable through his window (the syuzhet). However this is an example of a syuzhet that disrupts fabula construction via geographical limitations (being confined to Jeff’s apartment, despite all the action occurring in Thorwald’s), as opposed to temporal ones - which when discussing films relating to memory is important.

In order to fully understand the effect form has on the psychological and philosophical implications of the narrative of a film, this section will compare two films in terms of their structural form. Though different in tone and form, Memento (Nolan 2000) and Finding Nemo (Stanton 2003) have many similarities that are worth noting – particularly the presence of characters suffering from anterograde amnesia.

Both films feature traumatized protagonists who are haunted by the past. Both Marlin and Leonard are widowers, whose wives died in a violent attack despite their attempts to protect them. Both are knocked unconscious: Marlin wakes up unharmed, Leonard suffers severe head trauma and is left with anterograde amnesia, unable to create new memories. Both films then[iv] follow their protagonists methods of coping with this severe trauma: Marlin is left anxious and overprotective, trying to ensure the same fate does not befall Nemo and cause Marlin further loss; Leonard meanwhile takes a far more extreme method of coping with his loss – by seeking revenge against John G, the man who he believes raped and murdered his wife, hoping to somehow make up for the loss of his wife.

The most significant difference between Finding Nemo and Memento is their formalist structures. Finding Nemo follows a very typical linear structure, while alternating geographically between the two main locations (Marlin and Dory traveling from the Great Barrier Reef to Sydney, and Nemo in the dentist’s office) the film still maintains temporal consistency by running in chronological order – therefore the fabula is easy to construct between the two parallel story lines. Memento on the other hand has a far more complex structure with both a bidirectional and a reverse chronological structure[v]. I posit that the form of these films not only serves a narrative function, but is also symbolic of the way the two protagonists (or in Leonard’s case, does not) overcome their grief.

Let us first look at how causality works within the ideas of narrative - in particular filmic narrative. Causality refers to the notion of cause and effect, of one event leading to another - say for instance because a man used up all the milk making tea, he must then go out and buy more. The drinking of the milk is the cause; the going to the shops is the effect. In filmic narrative terms, this is usually referred to as ‘set up and pay off’.

In Finding Nemo there are distinct moments that influence the final climax of the film where Dory and a shoal of fish are caught in a net and Marlin and Nemo are forced to devise a plan to rescue her. Nemo, having previously escaped from a net at the dentist’s office now knows that if all the fish swim down together, they will be able to escape the net. Marlin, while hesitant to let Nemo put himself in danger again, has over the course of the film realised that he cannot keep coddling his son and that he has to let him go in order to save Dory. Nemo then attempts to convince the fish to swim down, and though it initially doesn’t appear to work and the net raises out of the water; Marlin then remembers the advice Dory gave him to “just keep swimming” and chants with the fish to keep swimming down. This results in the net breaking away from the boat and releasing the fish and saving Dory. This scene is a classic example of ‘set up and pay off,’ but more importantly is indicative of the impact memory has on the individual, as set out by Henri Bergson:

“The cone[vi] represents layers of the past supporting the present. The way to access these levels of past from the present is through memory and/or duration. [...] Each present past is contingent on which past is connected to that present moment. [...] Thus the past can be actually relevant and memory can actualise it.” (Clarke 2002)

In Finding Nemo, Marlin’s actualisation of the past (his adventure with Dory) through his memory allows him to both intellectually and emotionally move on. It is because Marlin can remember his experiences that he is able to overcome the grief he experiences resulting from the death of his wife, which is thematically mirrored in this dramatic and emotionally satisfying climax.

Now let us compare this to Memento. Finding Nemo’s linear structure enables the audience to make the connections between the events that occur within the narrative. However Memento’s complex structure makes it near impossible to have a full understanding of the causality of the films events - which is intentional as it forces the audience to view the narrative as Leonard would: completely without context. Though the audience is in fact at an advantage over Leonard as we have seen what will occur in the story time as we have already seen it in the film time, which allows us to appreciate the effects Leonard’s anterograde amnesia has on him. This creates a quasi-reverse form of causality, wherein we see the ‘pay off’ before we see the ‘set up’; such as the scene where a beaten Natalie asks Leonard to get rid of Dodd because he hit her, which is followed by (though in story time preceded by) the scene where Natalie aggressively goads Leonard into hitting her, revealing the true cause of her bruises.

By reversing the causality, it serves to prove Bergson’s notions of time, that “when we think the present as going to be, it exists not yet; and when we think of it as existing it is already past” (Bergson 1959). We can only perceive the present by actualising the past - therefore, as Leonard is unable to actualise the past by remembering it, his present is unperceivable.

Therefore, the past is what should be viewed as currently occurring, and when you ‘remove’ the past, you enter into a state of non-progression. Leonard cannot learn from his experiences, and therefore all events are meaningless, thus creating a cyclic narrative from which Leonard cannot escape. The beginning of the film is the end of the story; likewise the end of the story is the beginning of the film - both of which show Leonard killing who he believes to be John G. “Because he can’t form new memories, time doesn’t move forward for Leonard. He exists continually in the wake of the trauma of his wife’s death, and he is unable to move beyond it.” (McGowan 2011) While time moves forward for Marlin due to Finding Nemo’s linear progression, it does not for Leonard due to Memento’s atemporal one.

We have compared our two traumatised protagonists, but now let us examine the way anterograde amnesia is framed within these two films. Memento is framed from a purely subjective viewpoint: the narrative follows just Leonard, with occasional voice-over narration directed to the audience, placing the audience directly in the situations he finds himself, and the form that the film takes mimics his fractured memory system. Like Rear Window, which limits the audience geographically due to Jeff’s disability (his broken leg), Memento limits us temporally due to Leonard’s disability (his inability to create new memories). Finding Nemo however is not hindered by an impaired narrator and takes a much more objective viewpoint, following multiple characters in a linear structure, and providing the audience with as much context to the situations as possible. I posit that the framing of the films is inherently linked with the notions of memory and identity.

When we meet Leonard in Memento, he is alone and lost, both temporally and geographically, as he is unable to construct any form of narrative to provide context as to where he is. Dory likewise is in a similar situation; we see her swimming, unsure as to how long she has been doing so, though it is not unreasonable to suppose that like Leonard she is stuck in an endless cycle as she seems to “just keep swimming” without any real purpose. However, unlike Leonard we see Dory’s memory improve as the film progresses. At the start of the film her memory is so poor that she forgets things mid-conversation, however by the end of the film she is able to remember her entire adventure with Marlin. Leonard’s memory on the other hand is consistently corrupted.

Of course, Memento inhibits Leonard from storing any long-term memories given its disrupted structure: “the fact that black and white scenes interrupt the colour sequences creates an effect of interference: while we have to keep in mind the actions of the colour sequence, a black and white scene wipes out our working memory and attracts our focus of attention. As the subsequent colour sequence appears, it is difficult to remember the previous one” (Ghislotti 2009). As Leonard (the audience’s narrational avatar) is trapped in a temporally fractured fabula - it is impossible for him to repair his memory without first restructuring the entire narrative. Finding Nemo on the other hand allows Dory to access her memories by presenting the fabula in a chronological manner. Leonard cannot remember anything from his past, as it has not yet occurred in the narrative for him to remember; Dory however can, as the audience is able to remember the previous events of the film due to the narrative structure.


Cinema has the unique ability of representing time; whether that is by preserving it in its true form through with a long take, or by condensing or expanding it with editing. The long take has become a staple of many directors including Paul Thomas Anderson, as a means of showing interconnectedness across a single point in time, as in the film Magnolia (Anderson 1999). Cinema can also condense or expand time through editing. The film Boyhood (Linklater 2014) was shot over twelve consecutive years, thus condensing a young man's life into three hours of screen time, allowing the audience to literally see him grow up before their eyes. Similarly the medium of film can also expand time through various methods; repetition of events such as the money exchange sequences in Jackie Brown (Tarrentino 1997) or, as in the case of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Gondry 2004), through the actualisation of a character’s memory.

If we think of the present of the film as being from the morning Joel wakes up onwards, then the Lacuna procedure is an exterior analepse[vii] (Stan and the other Lacuna employees working in Joel's apartment), and within that analepse are several more exterior analepses (Joel's memories/dream). Therefore, the actual events of Eternal Sunshine only take place over the course of three or four days, but the story shown covers roughly two years[viii]. This expansion of time serves as a method of framing and preserving the moments within Joel's memory; a somewhat ironic notion as the actualisation of Joel's memories is caused by them being erased. For instance the scene where Joel remembers when he and Clementine pretended to smother each other – by recalling this memory, he allows the Lacuna employees to locate and erase it, and thus midway through the scene Clementine vanishes; thus the intended act of preservation (recalling) in fact diminishes and destroys the memory[ix].

As previously stated in the introduction, Bazin notes that cinema "embalms time," but Gilles Deleuze takes this notion one step further with the concept of the time-image: "a presentation of time itself, which forces us to confront the very becoming and dynamism of life itself" (Colebrook 2002). The dream sequences within the film show memories presented as slices of time, preserved in Joel's memory - however due to memory's inherent fallibility and the fact that his memories are being erased as they are presented, this presentation shows a corrupted embalming of time. Separate memories are merged together through intricate physical effects, false continuity editing and long takes, forming them into their own amalgamated time-image. During the sequence where Joel decides that he does not want the procedure to continue, he drags Clementine through his subconscious, through various memories he has of her, through various temporal and geographical locations, but formed into one time-image through his subconscious and the power of cinema. The use of Deleuzian principles is juxtaposed by surrealist motifs within the dream sequences of the film.

The surrealist movement's goal, as defined by leader Andre Breton, was to "resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality" (Breton 1924). In a sense, Eternal Sunshine does exactly that - it takes preserved moments in time, aimed to evoke real life, and makes them surreal by juxtaposing them with impossible dream logic. Take for instance one of the last memories Joel recalls before the end of his procedure: meeting Clementine for the first time. The dialogue in this scene seamlessly alternates between an “internal” monologue from Joel commenting on his memories of the scene and the actual dialogue from the memory itself, concluding with a brief new exchange between Joel and “Clementine” voicing his subconscious feelings about what is about to happen. This embalmed moment in time has been enveloped and warped by his active subconscious, creating a new surreal time-image.


Repetition in and of itself is a profound philosophical notion. The concept of eternal recurrence, originating in Asian religions and brought to the western forefront by Friedrich Nietzsche, theorises that “this life as you now live it and have lived it you will have to live once again and innumerable times again” (Nietzsche 1989), and that repetition is inevitable. Repetition is very common in films that deal with ideas of memory, as when you recall a memory you repeat it in your mind. Repetition is also a key part of any form of analysis, as it is through repetition that patterns and themes are formed.

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind features a lot of repetition, and thus raises a lot of intriguing questions about it. The film follows two patients of Dr Howard Mierzwack: Joel Barish and Mary Svevo; both chose to have memories of traumatic relationships erased, only to find themselves repeating themselves by returning to their ex partners. When Mary learns that she and Howard had previously been an item, she is horrified and attempts to undo the damage she, as an employee at Lacuna Inc., has caused by returning the files to everyone who had the procedure, informing them of the memories they had erased. Joel on the other hand choses to accept that he and Clementine had a tempestuous relationship that ended painfully, and that it could well happen again, but decides to continue with this “new” relationship he has with Clementine despite this. These two different reactions offer intriguing ideas when it comes to the notion of memory and repetition.

First let us consider Mary's story. Her romantic relationship with Howard is objectively damaging: he is a much older married man, in a position of authority over her[x]. The moral quandaries and disparity in power are reasons as to why Mary would want to forget, and simultaneously avoid returning to this relationship. However the very act of forgetting it enables her to repeat it. She has no way of knowing that by continuing with her infatuation with Howard she could very well fall back into an affair with him, and does. Her lack of memory leaves her vulnerable. This point in emphasised by the fact that Howard, the inventor and advocator of the Lacuna service, does not undergo the procedure. This hypocrisy is evidence that memory is a vital part of self-preservation[xi]; hence why Mary resolves to "return" former clients memories in order to prevent future repetition.

Now let us look at Joel and Clementine. They, like Mary, fall back into their demonstrably bad relationship, as they have no memory of how it ended last time. However unlike Mary they choose to continue their relationship, despite the fact that they now know that it could result in future unhappiness[xii]. This acknowledgement that there are inherent and fatal flaws in their relationship can be interpreted as a sign that their second start will lead to a healthier romance; however I suggest that this is optimistic conjecture. It is worth noting that while Joel and Clementine are aware of their past relationship, they do not have any actual memories of it. The film's opening of the pair meeting for the second time, to the audience as well as the characters, appears to be the first time - this is because, like in Memento, the inability to actualise the past inhibits the way one perceives the present. Listening to the tapes of themselves describing their disdain for each other is not the same as remembering it: Joel genuinely "can't see anything [he doesn't] like about [her]." Despite the fact that they know that their relationship will be fraught with issues, their current instinct is to be with the person they met two days ago, to whom they have a deep attraction. It would seem that Joel and Clementine's repetition of their previous romance will lead to a repetition of their previous depression. This supposition is validated by the film's final sequence: Joel and Clementine are frolicking happily on the snowy beach in Montauk; Clementine's hair is red, a visual cue that this is most likely a flashback to an early point in their initial relationship[xiii]. However the final shot of the couple running off together repeats three times over a fade to white. This subtle visual repetition hints that Joel and Clementine are doomed to break up, erase each other, and find each other, over and over again[xiv].

As well as making points about the relationship between memory and instinct, the film also makes the link between memory and loss, similar to the idea’s of mourning and melancholia put forward by Sigmund Freud in Trauer und Melancholie (Freud 1917). The characters that undergo the Lacuna procedure are in a state of melancholy as they are in mourning for a lost object (their ex-partner). They are unable to come to terms with that loss, and therefore are incapable of forming new attachments, as that would involve detaching themselves from the lost object. From a short sighted perspective it seems that by removing the lost object (or more specifically the memory of it), you remove the mourning: "this process of negating a negation, deleting a lack, is one of overcoming death and loss and eventually leads to a new investment in life and love." (Carel 2007) However, by removing the lost object you do not overcome grief, instead you negate attachment - since all attachments must result in loss, as all things are transient. It is like the Tennyson quote “’tis better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.” (Tennyson 1849) This is the conclusion that Joel comes to at the mid point of his procedure, wishing to keep the happy memories of his relationship with Clementine; but of course by removing her as an entire object, it removes both the positive and negative attachments he has to her. The Lacuna procedure does not end mourning but rather encourages melancholia, as melancholia is characterised by the unwillingness to form new attachments at the risk of further loss; they cannot separate the pain of the loss from the positive associations and memories of that lost object – and therefore choose to attach and erase over and over again. The film puts forward the notion that mourning is a natural part of life, and should be gone through naturally.

Leonard in Memento is also a classic melancholic. Due to his condition, he is unable to consolidate his memories of his wife and detach himself from this lost object and therefore he is in a constant state of grief. There is a scene towards the middle of the film where Leonard burns some of his wife’s belongings in the hope that it will allow him respite; but he realises that he has tried to do this before. He attempts to erase the physical memories of his wife, in the hope that it will in turn erase the mental ones; however because of his condition he is trapped in a temporal loop, unable to detach himself from the lost object: “how am I supposed to heal if I can’t feel time?” (Nolan 2000). The repetition in Memento condemns Leonard to a life of melancholia, in a similar way to the patients of Lacuna Inc.

So far in this essay, we have been discussing films which deal with the notion of extreme examples of fallible memory: anterograde amnesia, or selective memory erasing; however it still remains that everyday memory is fallible in its own way. (500) Days Of Summer (Webb 2009) is about a failed relationship told out of chronological order from the perspective of Tom. Tom has a healthy memory, but his memories are still warped and presented out of linearity; his memories are linked together based on theme and content, rather than chronology[xv], such as the Ikea sequence showing both the happy and emotionally distant times they went there, creating a bittersweet juxtaposition. While this allows for some formalist montage like associations, it also raises questions about the reliability of the narrator. While there are scenes that directly lead to analepses, the majority of the film is merely arranged without context; there is no set anchor from which his memories originate. As Seymor Chatman states in his theories of film narration “in cinema as in literature, the implied author is the agent intrinsic to the story whose responsibility is the overall design” (Chatman 2005) – in this case that agent is Tom, an admittedly somewhat obsessive and melancholic author for the story, thus colouring his narration with his subjective viewpoint.

(500) Days of Summer not only uses thematic repetition, but also repeats scenes that had already occurred but from a new perspective. The sequence where Tom recounts all the things he loves about Summer is repeated later on in the film but with Tom describing those same traits with loathing as opposed to adoration. This repeated sequence takes place after Tom and Summer have broken up and Tom is depressed as a result, thus colouring his perspective of her. There is a scene towards the end of the film where Tom’s little sister Rachel tells him “Look, I know you think she was the one, but I don't. I think you're just remembering the good stuff. Next time you look back, I really think you should look again.” (Webb 2009) This then causes Tom to re-remember various times in his relationship, but with a new perspective. These interior analepses show scenes that we have already seen in the film, but with an extended duration to provide additional context, helping Tom and the audience come to terms with the fact that his relationship with Summer was inherently flawed, and that it was for the best that it ended. These are examples of how perspective changes memory, dependent on your emotional state during the recollection and of the emotional drive of the memory: “stronger emotional arousal is associated with better memory; stronger arousal appears to create strong memories.” (McGaugh 2003)

By altering the frequency of events within a narrative, you not only place specific emphasis on those events and the variation between them, but you also alter the way time flows within the film with regards to causality. In the films mentioned in this section, the relationship between cause and effect is almost nullified due to the apparent lack of effect: for instance in Memento Leonard is caught in an endless repetition due to his anterograde amnesia, his actions are meaningless as he is unable to remember them and make the connections between cause and affect. The notions of causality within a narrative is linked to Tzvetan Todorov’s ideas on equilibrium: “The two moments of equilibrium, similar and different, separated by a period of imbalance, which is composed of a process of degeneration and a process of improvement.” (Todorov 1969) In films that deal with fallible memory, the inherent repetition that comes with it means that the new equilibrium is often no different to the original. These notions of causality and equilibrium are important when we consider that these narratives are presented through the medium of cinema given its unique ability to repeat verbatim through processes as simple as pressing the play button again.


In this essay we have closely analysed the effects of fallible memory, however the question remains: why are narratives about memory so prevalent, particularly within cinema? My analysis shows that, for the most part, memory is identity.

Epistemological philosophy posits many notions on the subject of knowledge, with particular emphasis on how this relates to humans; debating whether or not people are born with built in knowledge or are born with a blank slate or tabula rasa (Aristotle 350 BC). John Locke took this philosophy further, that not only are things like morals and rules are not built in, but a human’s soul is based on the culmination of their experience, effectively making a person’s identity based on their memories, not the body[xvi]. By this logic if memory is fallible then so is identity.

The theme of memory being closely associated with identity is prevalent in films that explore fallible memory. In Total Recall (Verhoeven 1990) the characters of Quaid and Hauser both occupy the same body at different times: Hauser being the original identity, and Quaid the new implanted one. When Quaid is captured by Cohaagen he is told by a video of Hauser that the memories of Quaid will be removed, and Hauser’s will be reinstated. Quaid rejects this, as this will effectively kill him; despite the fact that it is Hauser’s body, Quaid fights to keep his (admittedly manufactured) identity in tact. As Locke stated a person is a “thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing at different times and places. What enables it to think of itself is its consciousness, which is inseparable from thinking and (it seems to me) essential to it.” (Locke 1690). Therefore Quaid, though an amalgam of false memories created by Rekall, is in fact a person as he fulfills the criteria for personhood.

As previously analysed in this film, Memento’s fractured structure mimics Leonard’s fractured memory – though once we take Lockean theories of memory into account, it would appear that Leonard’s identity is equally fractured. Teddy often calls Leonard ‘Lenny’ despite his objections, stating, “My wife used to call me Lenny, I always hated it.” I therefore put forward the idea that Lenny is who Leonard was before his accident, and because of his condition his identity has warped into this new fractured one, called Leonard. It is worth noting that the injury that costs Lenny his memory, and therefore his identity is caused by having his head slammed into a mirror, a device for viewing oneself. Leonard is of course unaware that his identity is changed, as he is unable to remember anything that he has done since his injury. As Teddy says “that’s who you were. Not who you are now.”

As stated in the introduction, man has a fascination with preserving time and memory, presumably as a way of preserving self. As cinema is the art form that embalms time, it is also a method of embalming self; just as Bazin stated in his description of The Mummy Complex. While man wishes to keep memory as intact as possible, he also acknowledges memory’s flaws and fallibility. Thus man explores memory within the medium of cinema which, due to its ability to produce time-image, becomes memory.


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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Directed by Michelle Gondry. 2004.

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Citizen Kane. Directed by Orson Welles. 1941.

End Notes

[i]In photography, the image is not created from an interpretation being translated onto canvas via a subjective hand, it is the result of light passing through a lens exposing and reacting with the chemicals on a film This process in particular describes film based photography and cinema. Though while the process differs, the principle of preserving time in an impartial manner is generally the same.

[ii]The notion of montage was exemplified in the Kuleshov Effect (Kuleshov 1910-1930), wherein a shot of a man is juxtaposed by a proceeding shot creating multiple meanings

(Kuleshov 1910-1930)

Man looking off camera + dead child = grief

Man looking off camera + soup = hunger

Man looking off camera + woman = lust

[iii]This is particularly relevant with regards to digital cinema as any and all media can be duplicated without loss of quality. Analogue media also has the ability to be duplicated, though this does typically result in diminished resolution.

[iv]“Then” is used loosely here, as while chronologically the events of Memento follow the attack on Leonard and his wife, in the running order of the film it does not occur until much later.

[v] (Duarte de Sena Caires 2009)

Diagram showing the structure of Memento. The colour scenes run in a forward motion, but are structured in a reverse order, interspersed with the black and white scenes, which run in a forward chronology.


Cone diagram showing the relationship between the past and the present as posited by Bergson.

[vii] “Exterior analepses jump back to a time period prior to and disjunct from the moment of the narrative’s beginning.” (Turim 1989)


Diagram showing the structure of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

During the middle section, the plot alternates between the linear story of what occurs during Joel’s procedure and the actualization of Joel’s memories, which run in a reverse chronology. The colours on the left indicate Clementine’s changing hair colour, which serve as visual signifiers allowing the audience to construct the fabula in its correct order.

[ix] Actual healthy human memory is proven to deteriorate over time and continued recollection: “Such repeated exposures and our repeated thinking about them (’rehearsal’) no doubt contribute significantly to our mis-recollections of the original event” (McGaugh 2003)

[x]We catch a glimpse of potentially abusive elements of the couples previous relationship in a tape of her interview, wherein Mary seems unsure of having the procedure but appears to be somewhat pressured into going through with it. Similarly, his reaction to her finding out about their history is that of shy cowardice, implying that he had no intention of her finding out and that in doing so would cause him to lose the upper hand.

[xi] “Memory is the consequence of learning from an experience – that is, the consequence of acquiring new information.” (McGaugh 2003)

[xii] "I can't see anything that I don't like about you."

"But you will! But you will. You know, you'll think of things. And I'll get bored with you and feel trapped because that’s what happens with me."

"Ok." (Gondry 2004)

[xiii] See endnote viii for structure diagram of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind.

[xiv] In fact there is a deleted scene from an early draft of the script showing a much older Clementine erasing Joel from her memory and a computer screen reveals that she has erased him multiple times before (IMDB n.d.)

[xv] Despite the lack of linearity or preset running order, each scene is proceeded by the ‘day of summer’ that scene takes place in; therefor the fabula is easy to ascertain.

[xvi] Let us then suppose the mind to have no ideas in it, to be like white paper with nothing written on it. How then does it come to be written on? From where does it get that vast store which the busy and boundless imagination of man has painted on it—all the materials of reason and knowledge? To this I answer, in one word, from experience. (Locke 1690)

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