In this section of our Colossus Movie Guide for Memento, we will explain the film’s ending.
- Guy Pearce – Leonard Shelby
- Carrie-Anne Moss – Natalie
- Joe Pantoliano – John Edward “Teddy” Gammell
- Mark Boone Junior – Burt
- Russ Fega – Waiter
- Jorja Fox – Catherine Shelby
- Stephen Tobolowsky – Samuel R. “Sammy” Jankis
- Harriet Sansom Harris – Mrs. Jankis
- Thomas Lennon – Doctor
- Callum Keith Rennie – Dodd
The end of Memento explained
The ending of Memento is a culmination of the film’s reverse narrative structure, converging at the beginning of the story. As the color and black-and-white sequences converge at the end, the truth about Leonard’s past and his motives are revealed, leaving the audience to question the nature of reality and memory.
In the black-and-white sequences, Leonard recounted the story of Sammy Jankis, a man who suffered from the same memory condition as Leonard. Sammy had accidentally killed his wife by giving her an overdose of insulin. However, as the film progresses, it becomes apparent that the story of Sammy Jankis is actually a projection of Leonard’s own experiences. The real twist occurs when Teddy, a seemingly helpful police officer who has been assisting Leonard, reveals crucial information about Leonard’s past.
Teddy explains that Leonard’s wife actually survived the attack and that Leonard himself is responsible for her death. Leonard’s inability to create new memories is due to the traumatic event of accidentally killing his wife through an insulin overdose. Teddy reveals that the man Leonard believed to be his wife’s attacker, John G., has been dead for some time, and Leonard had already avenged his wife’s attack. However, Leonard’s amnesia has caused him to forget his successful revenge, prompting Teddy to manipulate Leonard into taking out criminals under the guise of hunting down his wife’s attacker. Teddy has been exploiting Leonard’s condition for his own benefit, turning him into a vigilante hitman.
Unable to accept this reality, Leonard decides to manipulate his own memory. He writes down a note to get a tattoo of Teddy’s license plate number and plants it as a clue in his car, setting up Teddy as the next John G. By doing so, Leonard ensures that he will continue his quest for revenge, giving himself a sense of purpose and identity.
In the film’s final moments, Leonard drives away from the scene, leaving Teddy behind. As he speeds off, he takes a photograph of Teddy to add to his collection of mementos. This photograph will serve as a reminder of his mission to take down Teddy, who he believes to be John G. Leonard’s decision to manipulate his memory and continue his pursuit of vengeance sets the stage for the beginning of the film, as the audience is now aware that Leonard will ultimately kill Teddy, believing him to be his wife’s attacker.
The movie ends with this quote from Leonard’s internal monologue as he pulls up to a tattoo parlor:
I have to believe in a world outside my own mind. I have to believe that my actions still have meaning, even if I can’t remember them. I have to believe that when my eyes are closed, the world’s still there. Do I believe the world’s still there? Is it still out there? Yeah. We all need mirrors to remind ourselves who we are. I’m no different.
The ending of Memento is a complex and thought-provoking exploration of the human psyche, memory, identity, and the subjectivity of truth. Rather than providing a neat resolution, the film leaves viewers with more questions than answers, underscoring its central themes and prompting a deeper examination of the film’s philosophical implications.
Memory and How It’s Manipulated
At the heart of Memento‘s ending is a profound examination of the nature of memory and its susceptibility to manipulation. Leonard’s amnesia serves as an extreme embodiment of how malleable and unreliable our memories can be. Throughout the film, we see him heavily relying on physical mementos to construct his reality, navigate his daily life, and stay committed to his quest for revenge.
The ending, however, uncovers a startling revelation: Leonard deliberately manipulates his memory. After learning from Teddy that he had already avenged his wife’s murder, Leonard, unable to accept the truth, decides to plant false evidence against Teddy. He notes down Teddy’s license plate number as a clue for his future self, effectively setting up Teddy as his next target.
This act of self-deception illustrates how Leonard, though afflicted with a memory disorder, still has control over his reality—he chooses which parts of his past to remember and which to forget. It is a chilling reminder of how memory, far from being an objective recorder of past events, is a subjective, dynamic process that can be influenced by our desires, fears, and biases. This insight allows the viewer to reconsider the role of memory not just in Leonard’s world, but also in their own lives, prompting them to question the reliability of their recollections and the narratives they construct around them.
The Complicated Pursuit of Truth
Memento’s ending also compels us to reflect on the elusive nature of truth and the lengths one might go to uncover or conceal it. Leonard’s pursuit of truth, symbolized by his relentless hunt for his wife’s killer, is driven by his desire for closure and a sense of justice. Yet, as the film concludes, we realize that Leonard’s truth is a self-manufactured one.
When confronted with the unsettling reality that his wife’s killer has already been punished and that he himself was responsible for her death, Leonard rejects this truth. He chooses to continue living in a constructed reality where he is the aggrieved husband seeking justice, rather than the guilt-ridden spouse who caused his wife’s demise.
This decision to reject an inconvenient truth in favor of a comforting illusion underscores the subjective and often self-serving nature of truth. It raises compelling questions about the lengths we might go to protect our narratives and the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of our lives. It also invites the viewer to ponder the role of truth in their own lives and the potential consequences of ignoring or denying uncomfortable realities.
How Self-Perception Shapes Our Identities
The final moments of Memento offer a profound exploration of personal identity and the role of self-perception in shaping it. Throughout the film, Leonard’s identity is inextricably tied to his role as a vengeful husband. His single-minded quest for revenge gives him a sense of purpose and a coherent narrative to cling to amidst his fragmented reality.
The shocking revelations at the end, however, challenge this self-perception. Leonard is forced to confront the possibility that he is not the righteous avenger he believes himself to be, but rather a manipulated pawn who has been used to commit murders. Yet, rather than accepting this disconcerting truth, Leonard chooses to maintain his self-image as the avenger. He manipulates his memory to ensure that he continues on his path of vengeance, thereby preserving his self-perceived identity.
This choice underscores the critical role of self-perception in shaping our identities. It illustrates how our self-concept can influence not only how we perceive ourselves but also how we interact with the world around us. By choosing to preserve his identity as a vengeful husband, Leonard demonstrates the lengths to which one might go to maintain a consistent self-image, even if it means living in a self-deceiving reality. This aspect of the film encourages the viewer to reflect on the power of self-perception in their own lives and consider how their own identities may be shaped by their beliefs about themselves.
The ending of Memento forces us to grapple with the idea that our sense of self is far from fixed or immutable. Instead, it is a complex construct, shaped by our memories, beliefs, and narratives. Leonard’s decision to consciously shape his reality and identity based on his desires rather than objective truths reveals the fluidity and complexity of personal identity. It provokes the viewer to reflect on their own sense of self and the factors that influence their self-perception.
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