In the film Memento by Christopher Nolan, reverse chronology causes the audience to view Leonard Shelby as a sympathetic victim. Viewers start to watch the film when the story has reached its end. This confusing plot puts the audience in Shelby’s position. They see things from his point of view. Another thing that causes Leonard to seem like the victim is his condition, which does not let him make new memories. This makes him appear to be vulnerable. Finally, the other mysterious characters such as Natalie and Teddy make Shelby seem like the innocent victim.
According to what Leonard wrote in the back of his picture, Teddy can”t be trusted. This makes the audience suspicious of him throughout the entire movie. While watching this movie, one must pay close attention. The audience is just as confused and uneasy about what is going on as Shelby is. It is as though viewers also have the condition that Shelby has because of the reverse chronological order this movie follows. The audience, too, must have that same jolt of fear from scene to scene, the recognition that they have no clue where they are or how they got here.
Viewers feel sympathy because they start to see things from Leonard’s perspective. They feel they need to help him find his wife’s killer and take each and every one of his little facts into consideration to try and figure out the answer. The audience also sympathizes with Leonard because of his condition. He suffers from a rare form of amnesia, which renders him incapable of retaining memories on a short-term basis. Any bit of information he learns since his injury must be recorded or will be quickly forgotten. As a result, he must use an elaborate system of notes, photographs and even tattoos to keep everything straight.
This makes his “investigation” so much more difficult. One generates sympathy for a man who wants to avenge his wife’s death even if he knows he won’t remember that he did it. This makes it impossible to absolutely trust anyone. He feels he can only trust himself. The sympathy grows for Leonard as viewers see how vulnerable he is to manipulation. Leonard’s vulnerability to Teddy’s greedy manipulations and Natalie’s terrifying dishonesty further enhances the audience’s sympathy for him. The petty criminals who befriend Lenny for their own distasteful purposes make the audience feel sorry for him.
The two mysterious, but seemingly helpful people who may or may not be as friendly and helpful to Shelby as they appear, are Teddy and Natalie. These two make Lenny seem like the victim since they take advantage of him. For example, Teddy takes advantage of his condition when he goes along with trying to find “John G. ” He uses this to make Leonard kill Jimmy Grants in order to get the money form a drug deal. Natalie also takes advantage of his condition. She makes Lenny hit her and then makes it seem as though it was Dodd who hit her. She does that because she knows that Dodd will chase after Leonard, getting him off her back.
The backward story telling and the constant mystery of who is friend or foe make the audience feel compassionate towards Leonard Shelby. As the film unfolds, it becomes clear that Leonard is actively re-writing his past so that it will conform to his preference for seeing himself as a victim, innocent and virtuous. Since viewers put themselves in Shelby’s position and see things through his point of view, they feel sympathy for him. The determination to find his wife’s killer makes the audience suspect nothing of him. Another thing that makes him look like the victim is his short-term memory.
This makes him vulnerable and easy to take advantage of. The other characters that manipulate Shelby in this movie make the audience feel sympathy towards him. Every scene casts a different light on Teddy; he is never trusted, but one is never exactly sure why. It may have something to do with the fact that the photo Leonard has of Teddy has the phrase ‘Don’t trust his lies’ written on the back. Also, why is Natalie so willing to help him? Her Polaroid says she will help him out of pity but she also takes advantage of him. It’s hard to trust anyone in this movie.