Identity and Responsibility
In Christopher Nolan’s Memento, Leonard Shelby suffers from a head injury, which prevents him to form new memories. Considering Leonard’s condition, we see how important memory is in making us who we are and regulating our actions.
John Locke the philosopher argues that consciousness is key to the self and, as such, continuity of consciousness is central to the enduring survival of a person over time. The continuity of the conscious self is, for Locke, guaranteed by memory, which plays a very important role in identity. For Locke, the reason that I am the same person that I was five years ago is that I remember being that person. I can remember what I’ve done, who I’ve met, how I felt at a given time, what I like and dislike. This is why, after waking from a night’s sleep, I find myself to be the same person in the morning. Furthermore, it is for this reason that I bear moral responsibility for my past actions. As such, memory is of paramount importance to our experience of ourselves as responsible agents.
In the scene, in Leonard’s car, when Teddy says to Leonard, “You don’t even know who you are”. When Leonard responds that he remembers everything up until the accident and is Leonard Shelby, etc. Teddy states, “That’s who you were. You do not know who you are, what you’ve become since – the incident”. Leonard has distorted his personality, and has become a murderer to appeal his distorted mind of revenge.
In a way, Leonard is right – he is the same Leonard as before the incident. This, we might imagine is why revenge is of so important to him – the horrifying attack being forever present as his last memory. However, on the other hand, Teddy’s claim that that’s who Leonard was, rather than now is, seems to be correct. Perhaps this difficulty is reflected in Teddy’s exact choice of words – “what you’ve become”. Another factor to consider is whether Leonard (with pre-incident memories now restored) is actually morally...