In Memento the movie doesn’t necessarily go in a chronological order. It seems like it jumps from place to place like someone remembering something. It shows Lenny doing one thing, but no reason for it until much later. It works for the movie because it shows how his memory works and how his day goes. The story focuses on Lenny and the traumatic event that caused him to lose his short-term memory. He is searching for answers on what happened to his wife the night he lost his memory. The two people who are supposed to be helping him, Natalie and Teddy, use him and his condition to their own advantage. They get him to kill, steal, and threaten for them and he has to go by what they tell him because he cannot create new memories. As the movie concludes Lenny refuses to believe what Teddy tells him about the “real” John G. and his wife’s death. He decides to forget what Teddy tells him and continue on his path of finding John G., and he makes Teddy the “real” John G., because he wants to kill him. He believes that Teddy is lying to him again and he can’t trust him anymore. Throughout the whole movie Lenny seems helpless because he has to rely on others but in the end he makes his own decisions about what he wants to do. It is the one time in the whole movie that he seems completely sure of himself and what he wants/has to do. Although even his vendetta against John G. has its flaws. The one major flaw being that John G. is dead because Lenny already killed him. The fact that he can’t remember it causes him to continue on this never ending journey for justice.
Lenny could be classified as an empiricist because he has to start from what he experiences to gain knowledge. He uses his notes, tattoos, and pictures to try to apply reason but without the knowledge behind them he is completely lost. It is challenging for Lenny because his memory is faulty so he cannot rely on it and he cannot rely on the people in his life because they lie to him. Everyone he knows has an ulterior motive and he cannot remember who told what lie five minutes later. Locke says that everything comes from experience and in Lenny’s case that is true. The only thing that Locke believes is innate is the capacity of the mind. Lenny’s mind once had the ability/capacity to understand and remember but with that part damaged he is a clean slate, but feels guilt for things he doesn’t remember doing. We can’t understand anything unless we experience it, but since we can’t experience it at its base level we will never truly know it. Lenny knows that his wife was raped and killed and that he has to revenge her death, but he can’t understand the task at its base level. He tries to find answers but every answer leads to more questions that he can’t answer. He can’t ever experience a real conversation or complete a real task because every time he does something he forgets it. If he doesn’t write it down or take a picture fast enough he will never move over to the side of knowing and be forever stuck on the side of being. He thinks his notes help him by giving him some insight but he hasn’t realized that the information he received he got from Teddy and Natalie. So, the information can be false or lacking something important and he wouldn’t ever really know.
Nominal essence played a big part in Lenny’s everyday life. He would give names to things because that was the only way he knew what was real. When Teddy tells Lenny to write, “Teddy” on the picture instead of “Detective Gammel” Lenny later on believes that Teddy is Gammel’s real name. The naming process is crucial for him because he cannot know who people are and he cannot understand it until he experiences it. Although he names Teddy the “real” John G. he really isn’t in control on how he will react when he sees the photo again with a blank mind. Just because he named Teddy doesn’t mean he has any control over the situation. Memory and consciousness are critical for perceiving the world with a sense of accuracy, it helps form a claim on how we come to understand what is going on around us. The only thing he has is consciousness and a faulty memory so he can’t possibly perceive his world with any sense of accuracy. According to The Principle of Life we are all the same, blue playdoh, we can relate to one another. The only thing that separates us from one another is our experiences, but Lenny doesn’t ever really experience anything since he can’t remember actually doing anything. In his case he is separated day to day by his experiences. Each experience he has is not the same even though he does pretty much the same thing everyday. His identity can’t be based off his experiences because there is no unity within his experiences. The little memories he have of his past do affect his identity which causes him to go on this loop everyday of finding John G., and since identity drops off where memory drops off he can’t possible have a real identity according to Locke.
There are two types of retention: “…keeping the idea…which is called contemplation.” and “…the power to revive again in our minds those ideas,” (Book 2, Chapter 10, §1&2). Lenny could not keep the idea in his mind, that’s why he took the pictures, and the ideas that he did revive were flawed. Like when Teddy told Lenny his wife was a diabetic and Sammy Jenkins was a con artist. He tried to distinguish the real from the fake but he couldn’t. He would try to keep the idea in his mind but after the moment passed he could not recall the moment making it easy for people to take advantage of him, like Natalie and Teddy. Locke says that: “Those who cannot distinguish, compare, and abstract, would hardly be able to…judge or reason,” (Book 2, Chapter 11,§12). That sums up how Lenny lives his day to day life. Unable to remember past events and unable to tell if he is making the right choices, because he has no memories of what the right choice really is. He doesn’t really know what is going on. He has no right, according to Locke, to judge Teddy or reason with himself about making him the bad guy. He doesn’t have this right because he can’t think clearly about anything outside of his hate for this guy that doesn’t exist anymore. He is driven by his hate for a dead man that he makes irrational decisions and then forgets about them.
According to Locke, Lenny has no identity and no right to judge or reason. It of course doesn’t stop him from still acting. He impulsively makes decisions and goes on with his life like nothing happened, because to him nothing actually did happen. He has to live by experience because that is all he has is experiences. He writes down things, names his photos, and gets tattoos but it doesn’t really mean anything to him. He tries to decipher what he went through before but he can’t understand hurried or incomplete notes. He names things to gain control but the naming process doesn’t give him any power but just makes him feel more helpless. He is lost and he won’t understand what happens ever, but he still keeps trying.