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Peter T. Chattaway

Forget Me Not

Movies and memory.

Few themes in the Bible are as persistent as the call to remember: whether it is God commanding the Israelites never to forget how he brought them out of Egypt, or Jesus telling his followers to eat his body and drink his blood in remembrance of him, or the thief on the cross asking Christ to remember him when he comes into his kingdom, the role that memory plays in shaping our identities and in binding us to each other and to God is integral to the faith.

Memory has also become an increasingly prominent theme at the movies, going back a few years to Memento, an ingenious film noir about a man who has been unable to create new memories ever since he was knocked head-first into a mirror while trying to protect his now-dead wife from a rapist who broke into their house. Despite his condition, Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) is determined to hunt the murderer down and kill him, so he surrounds himself with notes and Polaroid photos, and he tattoos the most important clues to his very skin. These notes, he says, are more objective, more true, than mere recollection, which can be unreliable.

But the film gives us ample reason to doubt Leonard's claim. Director Chris Nolan arranges the scenes in reverse orderbeginning with the execution of the man Leonard believes is guilty of the crime, and working backwards as Leonard builds his caseand we realize there have been points in Leonard's quest where even he had the nagging suspicion that someone was trying to manipulate him into killing the wrong person. Shadowing all his efforts is the knowledge that his thirst for vengeance may never be satisfied, if he cannot remember that he achieved it; as Leonard himself puts it, "How am I supposed to heal if I cannot feel time?"

Breaking the story into shorter scenes and showing them in reverse order is a brilliant way to put us in Leonard's frame of mind. As each scene begins, he has no idea how he got thereand neither do we. It also underscores the fractured nature of ...

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