Frustrations of Deficient Memory.

Memento (2000) tells an entangled story about a young man Leonard Shelby (played by Guy Pearce) who desperately tried to solve the mystery of his wife’s murder.  Even though he could no longer store any new memories, Leonard devoted tremendous efforts and determination to find and kill the second attacker who murdered his wife.  From his old memory, he thought he killed the first attacker on the crime scene but the second attacker wounded his head causing him unable to gain any new memory.

Memento is a unique and bizarre film; watching it involves a lot of frustration.  Not far from the beginning of the movie, I started to lose track on the connections of events, and become more and more clueless.  Through the movie, I experienced strong emotions of memory impairment, just like what happened to Leonard.

Memory is a critical cognitive function we depend on in daily life; its dysfunction can certainly impact the quality of life.  The breakdown of the ability to recall and/or store memories may be caused by pathological conditions, aging, or accident.   In this movie Leonard suffered anterograde amnesia, a condition which makes him unable to create new memories. The profound suffering of memory impairment is the frustration of uncertainty.  Without memory, one cannot confirm facts, trust people, or reason events.  As for Leonard and his wife’s murder, it was uncertain if there was a second attacker; it was uncertain if his wife was dead; it was even uncertain if there was an attack at all.  Thus all of Leonard’s efforts were to make sense of the uncertain recall about what uncertainly happened to him and his wife.  However, he must kill someone, assumed the second attacker, in order to conclude the whole conflict which might or might not be real.   When nothing is certain, one must struggle to make sense of life piece by piece.

Memory Problems

The study of deficient memory in cognitive psychology indicates several different syndromes associated with memory loss. Amnesia is most well-known memory problem. According to Sternberg (2009), amnesia is severe loss of explicit memory; there are three types of amnesia: retrograde amnesia, infantile amnesia, anterograde amnesia.

Retrograde amnesia – occurs when individuals lose their purposeful memory for events prior to whatever trauma induces memory loss.
Anterograde amnesia – the inability to remember events that occur after a traumatic event.
Infantile amnesia – the inability to recall events that happened when we were very young.


Sternberg, R. J. (2009). Cognitive Psychology (5th ed.).  Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

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