Forget It!

l6wUqXDVxrKeiAmZP95Itp0Ttl6When I first watched the film “Memento”, I thought: phew! what a great psycho-thriller and what a tough time Christopher Nolan had to have in order to put together such a crazy structure (see figure)

Memento_TimelineThe story starts when a man named Leonard wakes up in a room at an Inn puzzled as to why he is there. Leonard has anterograde amnesia. Because of his inability to build new memories, he uses notes, Polaroid snapshots and tattoos to keep track of new information. Leonard developed his condition after he and his wife were attacked by an unknown assailant. His wife was killed and he suffered severe head injuries, resulting in his amnesia. Leonard is determined to avenge his wife’s murder. Since he can’t experience the passage of time, his wife’s death is always fresh to him

Medical experts have cited Memento as one of the most realistic and accurate depictions of anterograde amnesia in the popular media. Yet, neither the cinematic wizardry nor the scientific soundness are probably the reason why the film is both intriguing and appealing:

This thought-provoking thriller is the kind of movie that keeps reverberating in the viewer’s mind, and each iteration makes one examine preconceived notions in a different light. Memento is a movie for anyone interested in the workings of memory and, indeed, in what it is that makes our own reality.”

When you see the struggle Leonard has to go through due to his medical condition, and think of the feat he has imposed upon himself, you immediately acknowledge that his means are nowhere near commensurate with the scale of his mission. His objective appears simply unattainable. When the film ends, you may feel relieved that you have a perfect working memory which allows you to navigate through life with everything under control.

However, very recently I realized that Leonard’s objective is not so different from and, in fact, it is as crazy as the grand objective we collectively impose upon ourselves of making sense of the world and understanding reality. We are propelled by the same Leonard’s urgency to confer our lives a sense of finality and progress, and if you think twice our means are equally disproportionate to the objective we pursue.

Our capabilities and skills are actually very limited when compared with the task at hand. Our “perfect” working memory is limited and faulty. Yet it is our fundamental tool to understand a universe which is zillions of times larger than the small planet we inhabit, and made of particles which are zillions of times smaller than ourselves. What an improbable and terrific feat would be to succeed in cracking the universe code!

Like Leonard, we have invented a whole set of tools, from cave painting to writing to science in order to help us create and test memories that allows us to continue, generation after generation. What is history but the notes we write to ourselves in order to remember yesteryear’s events? What is Science but the systematic enterprise to build and organize knowledge in the form of actionable next steps? What is literature, or music, or art but the tattoos we record on our collective skin to never lose sight of our beliefs and intention?

Memento is a perfect metaphor for humanity as we go on and on riding our spinning Earth across the dark space, while we try to find something we believe it has to exist beyond the speed, and the spinning and the heck of the moment. But for all their sophistication, will our tools ever live up to the task of understanding reality? Will they ever be more than Leonard’s notes and tattoos and Polaroids?

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