Scene analysis: Memento

The scene I decided to analyze is about an hour into the movie when Sammy Jenkin’s wife meets Leonard at his office. I thought this scene had some interesting shots and mis-en-scene, as well as relayed important information about Leonard and Mrs. Jenkins.

The scene occurs within one of the black and white portions. These scenes occur early in the narrative and supply the audience with background knowledge necessary for an understanding of Leonard’s life after his memory loss and what he remembers from his life before it. the scene with Mrs. Jenkins is flanked on both sides with scenes of Leonard on the phone with the mystery caller we later assume is Teddy.  As the scene begins, Leonard’s voice over is more prominent than the dialogue between Mrs. Jenkins and Leonard. This ensures that the viewer understands that Leonard is relaying the story to the caller, not simply remembering it for the sake of remembering it.

The cinematography and mise-en-scene is relatively important.  The shots are short and follow the conversation between the two characters. The scene opens in a medium close-up which establishes the setting and the characters location in relationship to each other. The viewer sees that they are in a spacious business office, though the type of business is indiscernible from the mise-en-scene.  This suggests that Leonard is probably important in the company, but it doesn’t positively say that his memory of his former job as an insurance investigator is completely accurate. The characters sit on opposite sides of the desk. The camera is behind Leonard and the objects on the desk show that Leonard is in the position of power in the dynamic between the characters. It is his desk. The computer and phone are relatively old looking, from the 90s probably. On Leonard’s computer is a note or reminder, which suggests that even then his memory was not perfectly reliable and that this use of notes would later transfer into his new life. The second shot furthers the characters relationship, both spatially and in terms of power. The desk wraps around Leonard, showing it is his. On the back wall is a diploma, which suggests that Leonard has a professional degree.

Side note: this suggests that the director shows no distinction between educated and non-educated people in his assertions that memory can be deceptive and is untrustworthy. It also ties into Galatea 2.2 when we meet Lentz’s wife and other patients at the home. She and the Asian woman were both very intelligent, well-learned individuals who, through physical deterioration lost their ability to remember.

After these initial shots, the rest of the shots are shallow-focused close-ups. The objects in the room are no longer relevant. This may lead back to the idea that “memory can change the look of a room,” as Leonard informs us in the film. The shots of Mrs. Jenkins seem a bit less centered, with a heavy amount of blurry objects on the table in the back ground. This could be speaking to her unbalanced mental state. Shots of  Leonard, on the other hand, are balanced, showing that he firmly believes that this is what happened. If what Teddy says at the end of the film (beginning of the narrative) is true, this part of Leonard’s memory must be fabricated or blended from some other memory because Mrs. Jenkins would really be a stand in for his dead wife. The mis-en-scene is so nondescript that it could be easily fabricated. Is this scene real or a fabrication? Has Leonard blended this memory with a imagined story of Sammy Jenkins in order to mentally accept the death of his wife?

Most interesting about the scenes is Leonard’s appearance. He is dressed in business clothes, no physical blemishes (cuts or tattoos) and his hair is combed to the side. It is a far cry from the Leonard we see throughout the film, with unkempt hair, flannel or over flashy shirts, and cuts. Teddy seems to be right; Leonard does not know who he is anymore.  Mrs. Jenkins looks like an older version of Leonard’s wife. Could that be a sign?


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One Response to Scene analysis: Memento

  1. kmiddleton says:

    Nice work here, Lauren. I like the attention to the scene that seems utterly nondescript. With a director who is a little less obsessive than Nolan, I might buy the idea that this scene wasn’t attended to. When you know how circumspect he is, you see how paying attention can help you. If I remember correctly (ha!), the scene brings back a voice over after Mrs. Jankis asks L. for his opinion. There’s a tension here, I think, btw. the controlled view of the camera and the affect created both by Mrs. J’s crying, and by L’s voiceover reaction to it. How do these pieces play in to your reading? Do they detract from the close observations that you’re making here, or do they work in tandem with them?

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