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«Memento Within a short space of time, the film Memento has already been hailed as a modern classic. Memorably narrated in reverse, from the ...»

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Within a short space of time, the film Memento has already been hailed as

a modern classic. Memorably narrated in reverse, from the perspective

of Leonard Shelby, the film’s central character, it follows Leonard’s

chaotic and visceral quest to discover the identity of his wife’s killer

and avenge her murder, despite his inability to form new long-term


This is the first book to explore and address the myriad philosophical

questions raised by the film, concerning personal identity, free will, memory, knowledge, and action. It also explores problems in aesthetics raised by the film through its narrative structure, ontology, and genre.

Beginning with a helpful introduction that places the film in context and maps out its complex structure, specially commissioned chapters examine

the following topics:

• Memory, emotion, and self-consciousness

• Agency, free will, and responsibility

• Personal identity

• Narrative and popular cinema

• Film genre such as neo-noir

• Memento and multimedia.

Including annotated further reading at the end of each chapter, Memento is essential reading for students interested in philosophy and film studies.

Contributors: Noël Carroll, Richard Hanley, Andrew Kania, Deborah Knight and George McKnight, Joseph Levine, Raymond Martin, Michael McKenna, and John Sutton.

Andrew Kania is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Trinity University, San Antonio. His principle research is in the philosophy of music, film, and literature and he is the co-editor (with Theodore Gracyk) of the forthcoming Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Music.

Philosophers on Film The true significance of film for philosophy, and of philosophy for film, cannot be established in


or general terms. It can only be measured in and through individual philosophers’ attempts to account for their experience of specific films. This series promises to provide a productive context for that indispensable enterprise.

Stephen Mulhall, Fellow and Reader in Philosophy, New College, Oxford In recent years, the use of film in teaching and doing philosophy has moved to center stage. Film is increasingly used to introduce key topics and problems in philosophy, from ethics and aesthetics to epistemology, metaphysics, and philosophy of mind. It is also acknowledged that some films raise important philosophical questions of their own. Yet until now, dependable resources for teachers and students of philosophy using film have remained very limited. Philosophers on Film answers this growing need and is the first series of its kind.

Each volume assembles a team of international contributors to explore a single film in depth, making the series ideal for classroom use. Beginning with an introduction by the editor, each specially commissioned chapter will discuss a key aspect of the film in question. Additional features include a biography of the director and suggestions for further reading.

Philosophers on Film is an ideal series for students studying philosophy and film, aesthetics, and ethics and anyone interested in the philosophical dimensions of cinema.


• Talk to Her, edited by A. W. Eaton

• The Thin Red Line, edited by David Davies

• Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, edited by Christopher Grau


• Blade Runner, edited by Amy Coplan

• Fight Club, edited by Thomas E. Wartenberg

• Vertigo, edited by Katalin Makkai Memento Edited by Andrew Kania This edition published 2009 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by Routledge 270 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2009.

To purchase your own copy of this or any of Taylor & Francis or Routledge’s collection of thousands of eBooks please go to www.eBookstore.tandf.co.uk.

© 2009 Andrew Kania for selection and editorial matter;

individual contributors for their contributions All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Memento/edited by Andrew Kania.

p. cm.—(Philosophers on film) Includes bibliographical references and index.

1. Memento (Motion picture). 2. Philosophy in motion pictures.

3. Memory in motion pictures. 4. Identity (Psychology) in motion pictures. 5. Motion pictures—Aesthetics. I. Kania, Andrew.

PN1997.M4344M46 2009 791.43′72—dc22 2008053198 ISBN 0-203-87659-8 Master e-book ISBN ISBN10: 0–415–77473–X (hbk) ISBN10: 0–415–77474–8 (pbk) ISBN10: 0–203–87659–8 (ebk) ISBN13: 978–0–415–77473–4 (hbk) ISBN13: 978–0–415–77474–1 (pbk) ISBN13: 978–0–203–87659–6 (ebk) Contents

–  –  –

Noël Carroll is a Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His most recent books are The Philosophy of Motion Pictures and On Criticism. Presently he is writing a book on humor for Oxford University Press.

Richard Hanley is Associate Professor in Philosophy at the University of Delaware. He specializes in metaphysics, philosophy of language, ethics, and philosophy and popular culture. He is the author of The Metaphysics of Star Trek, the main author of Philosophy and South Park: Bigger, Longer, and More Penetrating, and has published several articles on science fictions.

Andrew Kania is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Trinity University in San Antonio. His principle research is in the philosophy of music, film, and literature. He recently won the inaugural Essay Prize of the British Society of Aesthetics, and is currently co-editing The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Music with Theodore Gracyk.

Deborah Knight is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada. Her main research area is the philosophy of art, with emphases on literature and film. Recent publications include chapters in Philosophy of Film and Moving Pictures (eds Noël Carroll and Jinhee

Choi), the Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics (ed. Jerrold Levinson), Dark Thoughts:


Philosophical Reflections on Cinematic Horror (eds Stephen J. Schneider and Jay Shaw), and Literary Philosophers? Borges, Calvino, Eco (ed. Jorge Gracia et al.).

Joseph Levine received his BA in philosophy from UCLA in 1975, and his Ph.D. in philosophy from Harvard University in 1981. He has taught at North Carolina State University, The Ohio State University, and moved recently to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He is the author of Purple Haze: The Puzzle of Consciousness, which was published by Oxford University Press in 2001, and many articles on the philosophy of mind dealing with the problems of consciousness and intentionality.

Raymond Martin (Ph.D. Rochester, 1968) is Dwane W. Crichton Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Department, Union College, Schenectady, New York. He is also Professor and Distinguished Scholar Teacher Emeritus, University of Maryland, College Park. His books, some co-authored or co-edited, include: The Rise and Fall of Soul and Self, Columbia University Press, 2006; Personal Identity, Blackwell, 2003;

Naturalization of the Soul, Routledge, 2000; Self-Concern, Cambridge University Press, 1998; Self and Identity, Macmillan, 1991; and The Past Within Us, Princeton University Press, 1989.

Michael McKenna received his Ph.D. from University of Virginia in

1993. He is currently professor of philosophy at Florida State University.

Previously he held a tenured position at Ithaca College, and has taught as a visitor at Bryn Mawr College and University of Colorado, Boulder.

He has published various articles mostly on the topics of free will and moral responsibility.

George McKnight has recently retired from the Film Studies Program of the School for Studies in Art and Culture at Carleton University. He has edited Agent of Challenge and Defiance: The Films of Ken Loach, and has published articles on British cinema. With Deborah Knight, he has co-authored papers on American Psycho, The Matrix, Hitchcock’s use of suspense, and detective narratives.

–  –  –

fellow at UCLA, Edinburgh, UCSD, and Warwick. He is co-editor of Descartes’ Natural Philosophy and of the new interdisciplinary journal Memory Studies, and author of Philosophy and Memory Traces: Descartes to Connectionism and of recent articles on memory, distributed cognition, and dreaming. His current research addresses shared memory and social memory, and embodied skills and kinesthetic memory. He co-hosted a community radio program, Ghost in the Machine, on Eastside Radio in Sydney from 2001 to 2005, and he plays for Macquarie University Cricket Club.

Acknowledgements “Oh, gee, thanks.” —Leonard to Teddy (A, 1:45:37) F I R S T S A W M E M E N T O in Washington, D.C., in the spring of I 2001. I saw it again a couple of weeks later, in a state of somewhat altered consciousness, with Jerry Levinson and the other students in his aesthetics seminar. I was hooked. In trying to solve the narrative puzzles the film presents I was led to the film’s promotional website, and began to ponder an ontological puzzle about Memento: Is it really just a film, or is the website material part of the work of art that goes under the name Memento? I was soon bending the ears of whoever would listen to help me think about this and other issues connected with Memento. I would like to thank some of those people here, though I am bound to leave some out, to whom I apologize.

First, I should thank all my students at the University of Maryland, College Park, and Trinity University for the invigorating discussions they have had with me about the film. They provided me with opportunities to see the film again and again, and helped me look at it with fresh eyes.

In 2005, Tom Wartenberg gave me the opportunity to put my thoughts about the ontology of Memento into a serious form by inviting xiv ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS me to participate in the Seventh Annual Comparative Literature Conference at the University of South Carolina, “Thinking on the Boundaries: The Availability of Philosophy in Film and Literature.” Paisley Livingston and Carl Plantinga then kindly invited me to contribute a chapter on Memento to the Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Film, which led to Tony Bruce’s invitation to submit a proposal for a volume on Memento in Routledge’s series Philosophers on Film—the volume that you now hold in your hands. Both Tony and Adam Johnson have been wonderful to work with, and I thank them both for all their prompt replies to my many emails and their helpful advice.

I would like to thank Mark Conard, Amy Coplan, Gregory Currie, Berys Gaut, Paisley Livingston, Thaddeus Metz, Bradley Rives, Allen Stairs, and Matthew Talbert, who all provided helpful and detailed comments on drafts of various parts of the book.

I have had nothing but support from my colleagues at Trinity, both in the philosophy department and beyond. I should make special mention of Paul Myers, who watched the film closely with me, and Curtis Brown who gave generously of his time in helping with the line drawings and stills. Rob Chapman provided excellent technical support in preparing the stills. The Writers’ Bloc—Rubén Dupertuis, Nicolle Hirschfeld, Denise Pope, and Harry Wallace—helped keep me on task. The Office of Academic Affairs awarded me a summer stipend that helped me to bring the book together. I am also grateful to Shirley Durst, who proofread much of the book.

I thank Julie Post for putting up with more conversation about a single film than anyone but a film scholar should have to. Not only is my work much better for those discussions, but this book would not be here were it not for her.

Finally, thanks to the contributing authors, whose book this really is.


San Antonio, Texas October, 2008 Note on the director B O R N I N L O N D O N in 1970, Christopher Nolan was fascinated with film from an early age, making short films with toy figures and his family’s Super 8 camera. The son of American and English parents, his formative years in Chicago saw him experimenting in the medium with future director and producer Roko Belic. After returning to England, Nolan studied English Literature at University College London, where he made 16mm films with the college film society.

His first success as a young film-maker came in 1989 when Tarantella (1989) was featured on the PBS production Image Union, a showcase for independent films. A second short, Larceny (1996), was screened at the 1996 Cambridge Film Festival. Doodlebug (1997) eventually gained wide distribution in 2003 when it appeared on the Cinema 16 DVD compilation of short films by British directors. Nolan’s feature-length directorial debut, Following (1998), tells the story of a would-be writer seduced and set up by a con-man and his femme-fatale partner in crime. The film is also an experiment in the non-linear narrative structures that Nolan would employ to great effect in Memento and The Prestige.

Memento (2000), Nolan’s first commercial film, quickly became a cult classic and a critical success, with Nolan’s screenplay nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe. The film is structured around the fractured consciousness of its protagonist, Leonard Shelby, who claims to have been robbed of the ability to form new long-term memories by the assailants xvi NOTE ON THE DIRECTOR who broke into his house and raped and murdered his wife. The central narrative is presented in reverse chronological order, putting the audience into Leonard’s epistemic shoes.

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