Memento, Noir and our fading sense of morality

As we have frequently pointed it out, “Memento” is a classical example of a movie inspired by film noir. I came across a great article written by a German professor, Dr. Robert Hurd, who does a great job identifying film noir, neo-noir and its presence in this particular film ( In the previous post, my classmate also presented us with some great examples of the correlation between the three, but instead of regurgitating what has already been said, I would like to focus on one specific characteristic of noir that is so evident in “Memento”. That feature is the theme of revenge.

Hurd explains that the film of revenge follows a structured pattern where the protagonist is somehow betrayed and having run out of other options, he puts seeking justice into his own hands. Noir and revenge films criticize society and particularly its system of justice which was unable to help the protagonist. The police have closed the case of Leonard Shelby’s wife’s murder without finding the criminals that took away his wife and his memory. Having witnessed the wrongdoing, the viewer oftentimes commiserates with the protagonist blurring his or her ability to sense what kind of justice is morally acceptable. Another characteristic of noir is voice-over narration. We hear the story from Lenny’s perspective, as opposed to an objective one. The argument that I am trying to make is that because of the aforementioned characteristics, revenge films such as “Memento” may alter or more specifically – diminish our ethical judgment. We become possessed by an “eye for an eye” mentality. When researching the film, I came across a review on, which offered a great quote that further explains my point. It stated, “Leonard Shelby is a moral monster – far more sinning that sinned against.” Having empathized with Shelby throughout the entire movie, and seeking truth for his wife’s murder along his side, only to find out at the very end that he has been deceiving himself this whole time, could not surpass the connection and the pity I had for the protagonist. Was I justifying actions I would otherwise never agree with? I am amazed at the sense of revenge and at times even cruelty that this genre was able to awaken in me.

Memento Cartoon