Memento: “Goofs” and “Clues”

Peter and I had coffee a couple days ago and spent over an hour talking about Memento. Wow. First time I have been able to talk about the minutia of Memento with a fellow aficionado of the film, someone who (unlike my wife and several others, including perhaps Glenn?) does not think my obsession with trying to unravel the plot of this film is de facto evidence of insanity.

There is a lot of “inside baseball” type trivia about the film that has intrinsic interest to its “cult followers”, but is most likely boredom to the extreme for everyone else. I have placed this posting on our blogsite as a forum for those of us who are interested in discussing these kinds of minutia. Anyone can pose questions, comments, or discussion of trivia about Memento here, by adding comments to this post. Everyone else can spare yourselves having to wade through all this stuff by simply ignoring the comments to this post. SPOILER ALERT — If detailed spoilers bother you, do not read the comments to this post.

Peter, I invite you to add to this by placing as comments here some of the issues you sent to me via email.



7 thoughts on “Memento: “Goofs” and “Clues”

  1. Here is one example of something that might be either a goof or a clue. I made reference to it in my first post about Memento.

    Leonard states that he has a “short-term” memory problem. In fact, speaking technically, the symptoms exhibited by Leonard are ones that a psychologist would label as ones that reveal a “long-term” memory problem.

    If this is a “clue” rather than a “goof”, my interpretation is that it alerts the viewer that Leonard might not be a totally trustworthy character. If he has this fact wrong, maybe we should not trust other things he tells us either.

    If this is a “goof” it probably just means that the screenwriter/director did not know the proper technical term to use for Leonard’s symptoms when they put those words in his mouth. Alternatively, the screenwriter may have known the proper technical term, but simply thought the term “short-term” memory loss would provide a more accurate description to a “lay audience” of film viewers.

    One reason for considering this as a goof rather than a clue is that the number of film viewers who would have enough technical knowledge to pick up this mistake as a “clue” is tiny.

  2. Ron:

    This too is a great insight, and a tantilizing possibility; even though like with most things, the more we know, the less we know. One answer will lead inexorably to five more questions; such is life.

    I personally believe that Christopher Nolan, and his brother, the author of the piece, did not fully understand the scientific truth that when it comes to memory, short is actually long. Therefore we are cast adrift in a layman’s landscape, steeped in ignorance, and ignorant of our not knowing, until you, sir, came along and pointed out the error of all of our ways, our lack of wisdom, our lack of terminology. All of the reviewers made reference to the character being one that suffers from poor short-term memory as well. I wonder if there is an ignorance virus about?

    But if in fact, we all have it wrong, and we probably do, then your other premise, that Leonard is a con man, and he is intentionally using our ignorance to perpetuate a cover for his advanced psychopathy –does not hold water either. It is hard to have it both ways, the seams butt up to each other. I do believe that possibly Leonard liked the game, and did not want it to end; if he was capable of such insight. The ending does suggest this, the ending that was the beginning, and then repeated as the ending.

    So the mystery deepens, and so does our tiny attempts at understanding this fine film.



    If you want to learn more about Memento then watching the Limited Edition DVD is a must. Amazon currently is selling it for $14.99. Their site has no less than 1003 comments, so you know it generates some real interest.

    Here are some of the features on the two disks.

    • Director’s commentary (actually there are 4 different commentaries that play randomly when you select this option – more on that in a later post.)
    • A re-editing of the film so that it shows in chronological order.
    • The director’s script, see it along with the film.
    • The original short story by Christopher Nolan’s brother.
    • Part of a psychiatric report on Leonard.
    • More….

    Warning: if you found the original movie challenging and hard to “navigate” then this disk is even more so. You can’t see the features until you take and “pass” some memory and psychological tests, and they aren’t easy – at least they weren’t for me. It can be very frustrating to want to watch some feature and not be able to get past the tests and tricks. it.

    SPOILER WARNING – if you go to the site below and use it you will be deprived of the “fun” of playing these games.

    But, if you do get really frustrated, or just tired of playing cat and mouse with Nolan each time you want to find a feature, then go to this website:

    Here you will find complete instructions on navigating the disks.


    I was able to get the different endings to the director’s commentary. Here is how I did it.

    1. Started with the disk out of the player each time
    2. Inserted it and went through the “game” of reaching the director’s commentary feature
    3. skipped ahead to chapter 13 which starts (in B&W) at time 1:26:28. The switch between the different commentaries occurs at 1:33:52 which is at the end this chapter but it only works if the dvd actually plays through this point. I didn’t want to keep watching the start of this chapter each time so I fast forwarded to about 1:33:30 and then let it play into the next chapter.
    4. At the switch point I could hear the disk physically make an adjustment. Further and very clearly the timer reset it self to 0:00 and to chapter 1 rather than 14. So these different endings are stored in separate places on the dvd and are treated by the player as separate entities.
    5. The change to a new commentary may be random. So it may be possible to get the same commentary twice, or I guess more than twice, inn a row. So it takes a dedication to find them all.
    6. The different commentaries start out very similar and it is tedious to listen to the beginning only to find you have heard it before. So what I did was fast forward into the 14th minute of the ending (given that the clock had reset to 0:00). Here there is a shot of Teddy’s license plate as Leonard is writing it down for his “fact” tatoo. What Nolan says at this point is very different between the three endings ( in the “first” commentary he says something stupid about it being his zip code in England.) Anyway by listing to this 14th minute you can assure yourself that you have a new ending. If you do have a new commentary then do a fast rewind but stop before you get back to the switch point. You can stop safely when Teddy and Leonard are leaving the motel in B&W (you will be in minute 0 of the new timer). If you want to be really safe don’t do the fast ahead and fast back in this step.
    7. After seeing the ending of the commentary I ejected the disk, shut off the dvd, and then started all over. This may not be necessary but it worked for me.


    On web sites that list the goofs in Memento one alleged goof is the changing color of the vehicle in which Dodd is chasing Leonard.

    I believe this is not a goof but is deliberately put in by Nolan to illustrate how memories are unreliable.

    Here is the chronology based on the dvd timer.

    24:09-10 First and most important, during the scene when Teddy and Leonard are having lunch at the counter they have a discussion about facts and memories. At one point Leonard says memories are unreliable – “they can change the color of a car.” This is Nolan’s setup.

    52:40 Leonard is being chased by a red SUV

    52:59 the red SUV blocks Leonard in by parking behind him. Note that the SUV is perpendicular to Leonard’s jag.

    53:02 as Dodd walks toward the Jag you can see bed heads leaning against the wall on the passengers side

    53:19-20 Leonard runs out of the car, you can see that on the drivers side of the Jag there is a dark blue van. It is parked in the same direction as the Jag. This is not the car that changes color – it stays the same through the next scene

    49:44 being chased by Dodd Leonard runs past the blue van. It is still parked where it was in the same direction as the Jag.

    49:45 – this is it – as Leonard runs by the back of the blue van you can see a blue pickup parked perpendicular to the Jag. You can see the bed heads and the street. Clearly there is no red
    SUV, and although the blue pickup is pointed at the bed heads Leonard is no longer blocked in

    49:55 As Leonard is driving away Dodd runs past the red SUV – so here it has changed back

    43:58 As Leonard and Teddy get rid of Dodd the use his car which is again a red SUV.

    So the vehicle that Dodd was in clearly changes from a red SUV to a blue pickup and back.

    So first Nolan tells us that memories are unreliable because they can change the color of a car. Then later in the film he illustrates this point by doing just that. This underscores one of, if not the, key messages of the film.

  6. All very interesting engagements in fathoming the mistakes or deliberate dis-continuities of Memento. With the double DVD psych test edition, I felt quite fortunate a few nights ago to get the sequence of, in my case, guesses to be able to watch the movie through in the chronology intended for the moviegoers. Somehow I managed to get subtitles up, too, which were an additional feature that gave me a reader’s insight to some points I probably missed in just listening.

    The problem of short-term, long-term memory is an on-going study with each case of amnesia. Oliver Sacks, the clinical psychologist of the mind’s anomalies, published a fascinating article on amnesia, a profile of Clive Wearing, whose memory had a span of only seconds — “the most devastating case of amnesia ever recorded.” (“The Abyss” in The New Yorker, Sept 24th, 2007, 100-112) “There are clearly many sorts of memory,” say Sacks, ” and emotional memory is one of the deepest and least understood.” Christopher Nolan had a wide-open abyss to plumb and offered us a puzzle in Leonard’s condition and his method of defining his actions and the direction of his short-lived existential moments. More than any movie in recent times, Memento is one that begs to be seen several times, whether to catch the drift or spot the goofs and clues. I remember some years back enjoying a second viewing of Mulholland Drive and Donnie Darko in order to catch the full implication of subtle clues.

    A few things did bother me about Leonard’s amnesia. He did say at one point, at Burt’s motel office when Teddy appeared, that every moment is like just waking up. This is the hellish degree of short-term memory loss suffered by Clive Wearing. Every minute is a new now. However, he seems to know he should look in his pockets for Polaroid picture guides any time he’s confused. He’s savvy about this need which would seem to require memory for using such cribs. As much as he inspects himself in the mirror, I’d imagine he’d notice the need for a shave if he remembered what that was. Of course, his “Shave” message may have been to shave his thigh. How he remembers which part of his body he tattooed the necessary message on is beyond me. As the story winds forward to the past, Teddy and Leonard seem to know exactly what’s going on and it’s heavily implied that Leonard is play-acting amnesia to deny the acts of murder he leaves in his wake. It’s an interesting film, but I think one can question Leonard’s amnesia at lots of points in the story and scenes. His could be another amnesiac condition yet to be accounted for in the annals of clinic studies.
    Watching Memento, I had some interesting flashes on The Machinist in which Christian Bale played the gaunt, starving, sleepless man who was trying to conceal his guilt for the death of a young woman he hit on the road one night. I also had some flashes on Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Sid Vicious, in Sid and Nancy, from the tattooing or cutting and the display of emaciated torsos that these films emphasized. Skinny, weirded-out characters with strange mental conditions.
    It must have been a stretch for everyone involved in Memento to keep the plot incidents and details tight so that few goofs would show up. This film still stands as no. 10 on Tacoma’s Grand Cinema box office hits.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s