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Movie Review: Memento

By Mike Everleth ⋅ March 16, 2001

MEMENTO is the story of a guy who has no short-term memory. Every few minutes he forgets everything that has just happened to him. Even if he’s in the middle of a conversation with someone, he’ll forget to whom he’s talking or what they’ve been talking about.

That’s not even the weird part of the film. The weird part is that most of the movie is told backwards through time. However, since I am currently living my own life forward through time to the best of my knowledge, I’ll just skip writing about this aspect of the film and focus on the concept of memory, which is something I’ve always had to struggle with.

I have a difficult time experiencing happiness. I’m either worrying about some impending doom about to befall me or: If I am doing something that is making me happy, I consider all the other things that I could be doing instead, e.g. on Saturday mornings when I’m reading comic books I feel guilty I’m not better spending my time writing or if I’m writing I think how much I’d rather be lying around reading comic books.

But, worst of all, I rarely have any happy memories. Not that nice things have never happened to me, but I don’t recall those times as easily as I do the bad memories. Is this condition part of my genetic makeup? Did an early trauma/event condition my mind to behave in this manner? Is this just how the electrodes in my brain pulsate, with “negative” energy?

I’ve been struggling to write this review for about two or three weeks now. I saw MEMENTO so long ago, I don’t even remember when I did. At first I was just having trouble figuring out where this confession was going. It’s a difficult subject and is, to me, one of the odder personal things I’ve copped to on this website. But then, also, I got busy with other, more complicated projects.

However, I got re-motivated while reading THE TIBETAN BOOK OF LIVING AND DYING by Sogyal Rinpoche on the subway on my way to work the other day. It’s kind of a heavy book to read on a noisy train first thing in the morning, but I’m finding it mostly interesting. Rinpoche seems very angry at the spiritual laziness of Americans so at times he can be a kind of harsh, but he’s very sincere with an honesty I can at least appreciate and the book provides much food for thought.

On this particular morning, as I was about 2 stops on the train from where I get off, I began Chapter 8, entitled “This Life: The Natural Bardo”. The second paragraph of Ch. 8 states:

The masters tell us that there is an aspect of our minds that is its fundamental basis, a state called “the ground of the ordinary mind.” Longchenpa, the outstanding fourteenth-century Tibetan master, describes it in this way: “It is unenlightenment and a neutral state, which belongs to the category of mind and mental events, and it has become the foundation of all karmas and ‘traces’ of samsara and nirvana.” It functions like a storehouse, in which the imprints of past actions caused by our negative emotions are all stored like seeds. When the right conditions arise, they germinate and manifest as circumstances and situations in our lives.

I realize that those reading this with no knowledge of Buddhism might be confused by some of the above terms, primarily “bardo” and “samsara”, but the part of the above paragraph which freaked me out was about negative emotions being stored like seeds in our brains. Actually, that’s a little complicated, too, since in Buddhism traditionally “positive” emotions can be “negative”, but I’ll stick to the Western definition of “negative” for the rest of this essay. Those who are interested in what all this other shit means can go read Rinpoche’s book, I suppose. Tho’ I’m sure I’ve lost most of my audience by this point, anyway.

What’s also tricky is that, believe it or not, the story of a fictional character with no short-term memory, the philosophical comments of a 14th century Tibetan master and my barely coherent ramblings all do fit together, but I can’t really say why without ruining the end of the film. But as for me, I’ve been contemplating the idea that I’m a giant storehouse of negative energy. Why? That doesn’t really seem important anymore. The trick now is to demolish that storehouse. Well, at least try to.

It’s not an easy row to hoe, however. Rinpoche spends a long chapter (9, I believe) about the necessity of gaining a “master”, which I don’t think I’m quite qualified to do yet, if ever. Rinpoche would probably give me a good tongue lashing about what I just typed, as it’s a typical “lazy American” comment.

However, it’s also not easy to discuss this kind of thing with other folk without sounding like a complete fruitcake. It’s just a very radical way of thinking than I’ve been used to. But since the old way of thinking wasn’t working out so hot for me, why not give this new crap a shot? What’s the worst that can happen? In a few years maybe I’ll just look back on this time as a failed experiment, a bad memory.