Tuesday, December 16, 2008

You'll Never Run out of John G's

Chris Nolan's breakthrough film Memento was an excellent piece of work. It told a story using a complex reverse chronology to mimic the effect of not being able to create new memories. But that's a discussion I may later make elsewhere.

What I'm focused on today is the premise of the movie. As usual I'm diving right into the spoilers so if you want to avoid that stop reading now. The basic premise of the story is that Leonard Shelby kills his best friend "Teddy" based on a series of notes which he left for himself which implicate Teddy as the man who raped and murdered his wife and gave him the injury that cost him his memory.

Over the course of the film we find out that this is not the case. Teddy is really Officer John Edward Gammell who worked the case of Leonard's wife's murder. He gave Leonard the file on the break in and he's helped him every step of the way in tracking down his wife's killer and getting some lethal revenge... countless times.

The real story was that the man who did it was named John G---. Later on Leonard revises his notes to remind him that it may in fact be James G. So presumably very shortly after Leonard's wife's death they tracked John G down and Leonard killed him. Leonard's world has become focused on notes (the important ones in the form of tattoos) and Polaroids to tell him who his friends are, who his enemies are and the facts as they stand at any point in time. After getting his revenge "Teddy" took a photo of Leonard with a joyful look on his face pointing to a blank spot on his chest which he states is for him to some day get a tattoo that says "I did it."

Teddy apparently thought this would snap Leonard's memory back into shape and he'd remember his revenge. Leonard however did not, so Teddy helped Leonard start the search for the man he already killed all over again.

This would likely go on forever if not for an instance that happens at the end/beginning of the film. Teddy leads Leonard to another routine "revenge," but Leonard discovers something isn't right. Teddy tries to deny this when Leonard confronts him on it but eventually gives in, as he probably has numerous times.

Teddy justifies his actions by the fact that the quest for revenge gives Leonard's life purpose. Teddy doesn't see why Leonard is bothered by it since he doesn't have to live with the memories of what he's done while Teddy does. The process has become so routine Teddy's even found a way to make money off each revenge to ease his conscious. He reminds Leonard that this quest can go on forever giving his life purpose. "You'll never run out of John G's." At this point Teddy admits that they're so plentiful that he actually is a John G.

Leonard is forced to make a decision. Keep up a quest that he's already completed to give his life the appearance of a purpose and meaning, or make Teddy "his John G." By doing the latter he would be permanently breaking the cycle, bring Teddy to justice for all the "John G's" who maybe didn't deserve to die. After doing so he'd have to try to find a new purpose in his life even though that may be an impossibility.
You think I just want another puzzle to solve? Another John G to look for?
You're a John G. So you can be my John G. Do I lie to myself to be happy? In
your case, Teddy, yes, I will.

Leonard decides to make Teddy "his John G." He also finally seems ready to get that last tattoo. I think this is an important lesson that many people never learn. People spend their lives searching out "John G's" and forget that there was ever supposed to be any other purpose to their life. Maybe it's time to get that last tattoo and move on. The quest can be something that's hard to resist but maybe it's just an endless cycle that never leads to an actual goal.


Joe Maurone said...

Very interesing, Landon. Incidentally, this reminds me of another character whose sense of purpose was tied up in revenge: Inigo Montoya: "You killed my father. Prepare to die." Spent his life looking for the man with the six fingers, practicing his mantra over and over...when he finally gets the man with the six fingers, he realizes his purpose, his drive, is gone...

Landon Erp said...

True, but if I remember correctly he "Made a great Dread Pirate Roberts."


Joe Maurone said...

That's "inconceivable!"