MEMENTO Breakdown | Ending Explained, Easter Eg...

MEMENTO Breakdown | Ending Explained, Easter Eggs, Hidden Details & Things You Missed

Guy Pearce as Leonard in Memento holding a Polaroid

Memento is one of my favourite Christopher Nolan films, and it’s arguably the movie that put him on the map. This film carved out his signature style due to its non-chronological storytelling, and it’s a movie that to this day still can leave you scratching your head. Throughout this video, we’ll break down what happens in it, the hidden details, and also the Easter eggs that make this one of the best movies the director has ever put out.

The Opening

The reverse approach of Memento is shown in the opening shot of the film. Here, we see Leonard’s hand holding a fully developed polaroid picture. However, as he shakes it, the photo starts to blur and fade away, because it’s moving in reverse. This is very symbolic, as it’s also how Leonard’s memory works. In the movie, we discover he has a condition that renders him unable to create short-term memories. So to him, the moment is crystal clear when it first happens and then starts to fade like the polaroid we see here.

This is the murder of Teddy, who we see throughout the movie is a policeman that’s using Leonard for his own personal gain. Memento is very much a revenge story on several levels, and we see several characters that embody this.

How Every Character Used Lenny

Leonard believes that his wife was killed by a man called John G, and Teddy has weaponised this to make him his own personal assassin. Teddy has been framing people and then leaving breadcrumbs so that Leonard will track down these people and murder them. These tend to be high-stakes dealers, so Leonard makes off with the profits while Leonard thinks that he’s caught his wife’s killer for a couple of minutes.

We discover in the film that Lenny killed a man named Jimmy G, and that the money Teddy was after was in the back of his car. Leonard takes this car with him, and on a second watch, it becomes clear that Teddy is constantly trying to get his hands on the key. I love how this stacks up a second time, with Teddy basically trying to manipulate Lenny into giving him the car at several points.

He’s not the only person who uses Leonard either. In the movie, we meet Natalie, who’s played by Carrie Ann Moss. We discover that Teddy and Leonard killed her boyfriend, and throughout the film, she uses Leonard as her assassin to get the person who did it. It’s revenge for what Cypher did to Switch in The Matrix.

However, the end of the movie reveals that Leonard was always going to kill Teddy and that after learning the truth, he created his own game so that he would track him down unaware that he wasn’t his wife’s killer. He is finally liberating himself from the life he’s been forced to live by Teddy making him a target. We close out with him going to a tattoo store to start the entire game again with Teddy as his next hit. This is called Emma’s Tattoos, and it’s actually named after Nolan’s real-life wife.

How Lenny’s Reminders Work

The tattoos are an important way for Leonard to know what to do and who to trust. However, he also has other methods. In the movie, he talks about how you learn to trust your own handwriting, and when Teddy pressures him into making a note about Natalie, he writes down ‘do not trust her.’

Later on, this is scribbled out so that he can write about how she has also lost someone, and we can see the handwriting styles are different here. The first he wrote differently because it was Teddy telling him to do it, meaning that later on, he knew not to trust what this said.

Natalie also turns out to be a bad person. Nolan stated that the scribble is also used to show how ineffective Lenny’s photo system is. One thing can be put on it and then scribbled out so it just causes more uncertainty.

Is Sammy Jankis Actually Leonard?

Now beyond his wife, there’s very little that we learn about Leonard and his story between her death and his quest for revenge. However, there was an in-canon website created by Nolan that gave us some extra tidbits. It said that Leonard was put into a mental institution, and we know in the film that Sammy Jankis was in one too. Sammy was the man that Lenny projected himself onto in order to try and understand his condition. Sammy could very much be a real person, and Leonard talks about how he denied his insurance claim because he didn’t believe in his condition.

However, due to the similarities in their stories, it’s also possible that Sammy and Lenny are one and the same, with the latter using him as a way to understand his condition. Sammy was in a mental asylum as well, and we see a moment where he’s sat in it. Pay close attention to this, though, and we get a quick flicker of Lenny, hinting at him actually being the one in the asylum.

This is a detail I’ve missed so many times when watching the movie, as it’s on screen for a split second. But as the person passes we see the switch out. Leonard is also often called Lenny, which is similar-sounding to Sammy.

To add to this, when he flicks through the police files, we see a psychiatric paper, and we just have to look at the short story for more confirmation of this.

What The Short Story “Memento Mori” Tells Us

The order of the short story was also backwards, much like the film itself. Though the opening credits say that the movie is based on the short story by Jonathan Nolan, it actually released after this film. Jonathan went to Christopher with the idea for it, and Chris said it would make a great film, which is when they started to work on it. The movie was released in 2000, with the story dropping in 2001.

Titled “Memento Mori,” this Latin phrase translates to remember that you [have to] die.

The short story also has Leonard escaping from a mental asylum. And, when you think about it, someone with this condition would need constant medical care.

What The Black And White Scenes Mean

Teddy goes to pick Leonard up and this is very much the other side of the story in the film. Though Memento is often thought of as being a film that moves backwards, there are two parts to it.

We also have black-and-white scenes which move forward and involve Leonard talking to Teddy on the phone. At the end of the movie, these two timelines join up and this is shown by the black and white film changing to colour.

In the opening one, Leonard makes a joke about the Gideon Bible. In the movie, we get a shot of this being opened and it’s on Leviticus 24. This chapter talks about “an eye for an eye,” which very much sums up the idea of revenge that is pushing Leonard. It also says that if a man kills a man he must be killed himself, and because Lenny believes Teddy killed his wife, he has to suffer the same fate.

What Teddy’s Polaroid Means & Why He Gives A Fake Name

The fact that Teddy is also a John G too explains why he gives this fake name. He doesn’t want Leonard potentially turning his attention to him, so he lies to him from the off.

Lies are very important in the movie, with the notes on Teddy’s polaroid saying “don’t believe his lies.”

Interestingly, Teddy’s phone number is also on the polaroid too. This number is the same as the one that Marla has in Fight Club.

In these scenes, you can also see that Leonard has scratches on his face, and throughout the movie, these get stronger and stronger.

Lenny meets the motel clerk Burt who you’ll probably recognise from starring in Nolan’s movie Batman Begins. Later on, we also see a Batman symbol up in a shop window, showing how it’s all connected.

Leonard’s Wife Explained

Leonard explains how the last thing he remembers is his wife. He’s constantly feeling like his wife was just killed and he can’t escape this. However, we learn that she survived and that she became distraught with the fact that Leonard couldn’t remember her. In the film, we hear about how Sammy’s wife used to test him by doing things like hiding food to see if he’d find it when he was hungry.

This was originally supposed to be shown in the movie, but Nolan decided to remove the scene. All the content with Sammy was originally meant to be bundled together, so we got all the black-and-white sections in one go. However, Nolan decided that this worked better split throughout the film so that the scenes can reflect those moving backwards.

She too asked him to inject her insulin, which he did several times, giving her a lethal dose.

Lenny even creates tattoos for himself with a ballpoint pen and it’s possible that he was good at doing these because he was used to using needles on his wife.

Lenny talks about how happy his wife was but in the flashbacks, she seems like she’s either crying or at least on the verge of tears.

I think some of these memories are from after his head was struck and these are flashes of her struggling to deal with the fact he can’t remember her. He was the one who killed her and thus a story has been manufactured to hide the guilt from him. Nolan stated that the movie is very much about the lies you tell yourself to give things meaning and we see this reflected in Lenny’s actions at the end.

Now Leonard and his wife were attacked, and though he got the first person, the second assailant got away. The police didn’t believe that there was a second attacker, so he flew under the radar. However, Teddy was the one cop that believed him and they tracked down the attacker and killed him. But Teddy saw an opportunity, and his greed eventually led to his downfall.

Natalie’s Scheme Explained

Guy Pearce as Leonard in Memento holding a Polaroid

At a diner, Leonard meets with Natalie and we can see that she has a bust-up lip. This is something that Leonard gives her, and it becomes a way that Natalie gains the upper hand on him – by getting him to beat her, she can weaponise him. She used him to get a man named Dodd who was after her, and she had herself beaten up so that it seemed like Dodd did it.

Later on, Teddy explains how Natalie carries out drug deals, and in her boyfriend’s car, Teddy shows Lenny coasters from the bar where she works. Notes are written on the backs of these and passed to customers, and with the money and supplies going missing, people have started looking for both Lenny and Natalie.

Natalie could blame Leonard for her boyfriend’s death. Instead, she sees something in common with him. They are both survivors that lost the ones they loved and are now trying to get even with the person who took everything away from them.

Why Everyone Is Lying To Leonard

In the black-and-white flashback that follows, we learn that when Leonard worked in insurance and the skills he got here helped massively.

He learned to read body language – mainly when someone was lying – but we see that this isn’t really the case. Every character that Leonard interacts with is lying to him and he’s pretty much surrounded by sharks and sinking quickly.

From here we jump to a scene with Teddy. Aware that Natalie is trying to get him, he even suggests that Lenny could be after the wrong guy.

At the Discount Inn, we find out that it’s anything but, with Burt renting him out two rooms. He’s paying twice as much because Burt’s taking advantage of him, and it shows how everyone around Lenny is using him.

Sammy’s Tests Explained

From here we can catch Lenny’s investigation into Sammy. He starts to believe he’s not telling the truth because Sammy gives him almost a look of recognition whenever he shows up at the house. However, we learn that this is something Sammy carried out because he didn’t want to make people feel uncomfortable. He wanted to pretend that he remembered them so they wouldn’t feel bad, making it even more tragic.

Sammy was given several tests as it was thought he would instinctively avoid electrocuting himself. However, this didn’t happen and thus his claim was denied. His wife was stuck with the medical bills and it ruined them both… or her and Lenny… or whatever.

Anyway, Lenny is tested by a doctor who Nolan also cast in The Dark Knight Rises in a medical role. Thomas Lennon plays both parts, and he’s said that he at least likes to think that they’re the same person.

After Dodd is revealed in Leonard’s cupboard, Teddy shows up, and the pair drive out. We get a focus on Teddy’s license plate, which ends in 71U. However, this later changes to 7IU perhaps adding to how much of an unreliable narrator Leonard is and how it’s all potentially in his head.

The Importance of Changing Objects in Memento

Now, this idea of him having unreliable memories is also shown in the photo that Natalie gives him. In one, we can see that Jimmy has a moustache, whereas in the other he doesn’t. Natalie is also posing differently, and she looks less happy in one. This again adds to the idea of him misremembering things or seeing them differently from how they are.

They also have some fun with the props, as Teddy’s licence expires on the 29th of February 2001, which isn’t a real date due to it not being a leap year.

Anyway, we see a scene at night in which Leonard drives out to burn his wife’s belongings. This includes a book that she had that she’s read so many times the cover’s fallen off and the pages have curled. Lenny even asks her why she keeps reading it again.

This is very much a reflection of Lenny’s life, with him being stuck in the same story, going through it over and over and over again. He also burns a clock which… no prizes for guessing the symbolism there.

What’s Going On In The Escort Scene?

After another black-and-white scene, we watch Leonard waking up with the belongings he is about to burn. They’re set up around the room exactly how he had them in his old house. He does this because it gives him the feeling for a few moments that she’s still alive. As it turns out, he has hired an escort so he can relive what he believes is a happy time.

Nolan did go back and forth over whether to keep this scene or not, but he settled on it staying because it shows Lenny is willing to manipulate himself – which plays into the ending.

In a flashback we see Leonard being visited by Sammy’s wife, who asks him straight-up whether he’s faking his condition. Leonard denies it and it leads to her apparent death. It’s very much karma, with the same thing possibly happening to Leonard and his wife. I think the chances of two people being affected by this condition are extremely rare, but let me know below if you think Sammy was a real person or just a projection.

Leonard then goes to his car and he finds Teddy inside because he left it unlocked. Teddy has been waiting there but he can’t drive off with it because he doesn’t have the keys and doesn’t want to move the money himself. At the end of the film, Lenny throws his car keys away, and I don’t think that he ever finds them. This could be another reason he’s constantly trying to get the car.

How Evil Natalie Truly Is

Lenny stayed at Natalie’s but Teddy is the one who suggests the motel because it takes him away from her.

Here, Natalie’s true nature comes out, as Memento shows how she truly speaks to Leonard. She tells him that she’s gonna use him and enjoy it, and she unloads on him like it’s the YouTube comment section and you got one thing wrong in your 4000-word video script.

It’s so sinister how Natalie sits in the car staring at him as she waits for him to forget, and we’ve already seen how she played him in the previous scene.

We see her bringing him over to her house in the next scene, and she moves a newspaper off some food. This is a real estate guide and evidence that Natalie lives a very dangerous life – it’s possible that she and her boyfriend would constantly be looking at other places. There’s also a rotten apple – a common metaphor for a bad person amongst other good ones. Natalie is probably the wickedest character that we meet in the movie, and I love the way Nolan uses this to symbolise it.

Leonard tells her about what happened to his wife, and after Natalie leaves, he sits down on the couch. We get a split-second shot where he flicks a syringe and this is also something that we saw Sammy doing with his wife. Again, this ties the characters together and since they both do it in a similar way it could be hinting at them being the same.

Cut back to the motel and we see Lenny refusing to take calls due to a tattoo warning him against it.

The Envelope

At this point, an envelope is passed under the door and it shows a photo of him pointing to his heart.

This is very important, and it shows the extent that Teddy manipulated him.

We discover that Lenny was pointing to his heart because he was going to get a tattoo there to show that he had got his wife’s killer. This means that every time he looked at it, he’d know that he managed to catch them and get his revenge. Leonard’s polaroids are very much his memories, and they’re what he uses to keep things in order. Teddy snapped this photograph because it would be a way for Lenny to remember to get the tattoo and finally be free from this quest for revenge. However, the fact that Teddy passed this under the door shows that he took this from him in the first place.

Teddy stole his memory of this because he didn’t want Leonard to move on and in fact, he wanted to keep using him. He gives him the photo back here as a way to manipulate him and will constantly use it to get Leonard to open up.

Why Everyone Spits In Leonard’s Drink

Lenny goes to the bar because a coaster tells him about Natalie. However, as we learn, he’s wearing her boyfriend’s clothes and this coaster was a message for him.

Here, she gets everyone to spit in Leonard’s drink to test if he genuinely has memory issues or not. Like Sammy, he doesn’t remember it, but she does take it off him in the former scene after hearing about his wife’s murder.

We then cut to the tattoo shop where Teddy tries to warn Lenny by telling him about himself.

In his pocket, he finds the coaster and also sees the burned photograph which we know was him pointing at his heart.

Surely Leonard Didn’t Kill His Wife… Did He?

We see the scene with Jimmy playing out and discover he has 200 grand stuffed in the car. He kills him and steals his clothes, which is when Teddy arrives. At this point, Teddy reveals the truth after Leonard realises that Jimmy wasn’t the killer. This is a gut-wrenching scene in which he says Sammy never had a wife and that it’s Lenny’s wife who was diabetic. Lenny believes she wasn’t, and it’s a headf**k for the audience.

Now the director’s commentary goes in-depth on this, with Nolan going through what this scene means. He stated that at this point Lenny very much becomes the audience, and, just like him we aren’t prepared for the truth and don’t fully accept the answers. Even after Teddy shows him the photograph, Lenny still doesn’t believe it and he burns the photographs. Nolan stated that they deliberately chose polaroids because they can’t be ripped like a card one. Thus, they have to be burned, and Lenny symbolically is burning through the thing that continues to give him a purpose.

He writes down Teddy’s license plate and draws the I as a straight line which again could be interpreted as an I or 1. He drives off and then looks at his hand to focus on the Sammy Jankis tattoo. He does this because this reinforces the idea that he has to stick to the path and story that he’s on.

Nolan Used The Director’s Commentary to F**k With Us

Now to add even more of a head f**k to it, Nolan recorded four different endings for the commentary, with each lasting roughly twenty minutes for the final part of the film.

These are selected randomly every time you put in the disc, and depending on which you get, it could drastically change major parts of the ending:

  • The first one has him saying Teddy is lying.
  • The second says that he’s telling the truth.
  • The third says this is all a monotonous thing for Teddy, and it also adds that his licence plate, SG13 7IU, is the postcode for his old school.
  • The last one has the final 20 minutes playing in reverse so you can’t really understand it.

Who knows if we will ever know the truth? Nolan is deliberately keeping this ambiguous for us to make our own interpretations, I think.

Memento is a classic and always has been. This is one of Nolan’s strongest films and revisiting it after a couple of years reminded me of just how good it is. The reveals are crushing, the characters are so complex, and it’s very tragic. The movie is a great study of the human condition, and it’s packed with a lot of things in it that I hope this video helps you appreciate when you rewatch it.

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