“Somebody has to pay, Lenny. Somebody always pays”

Posted on July 31, 2011


Last night I watched the movie “Memento”. It’s written and directed by the same person who wrote and directed Inception, so if you liked Inception then I highly recommend this movie. It’s one where you have to be paying attention for every minute – if you miss anything you’ll be lost. But it’s worth it because you get a lot from this movie. It’s about a man, Leonard, whose wife dies and that’s the last thing he can remember. Ever since her death he suffers from short term memory loss. He can only go about 5 or so minutes before everything fades.

“If we talk for too long, I’ll forget how we started. Next time I see you, I’m not gonna remember this conversation. I don’t even know if I’ve met you before” -Leonard

What gives his life purpose? He spends it trying to hunt down the man who brutally rape and murdered his wife. This is, as you can imagine, a particularly difficult task when you have a memory span of a matter of minutes. The most important clues he tattoos to his body.

It becomes clear that finding and killing the murderer is the only thing Leonard holds onto. Catching the villain is what keeps him going despite the fact that little in his life has meaning any more.

This is a reflection of so many aspects of reality. We often direct so much energy toward getting revenge and nabbing the “bad guy” (or girl) in order to feel we have a purpose. In our personal lives, there is always the boyfriend/girlfriend stealer, the best friend who betrayed us, the co-worker we endlessly compete with, etc. Anyone can name a person they love to hate.

"He who wears this symbol is an enemy of our people"

Furthermore, we see this tendency to hype up and hunt down a villain in the larger society – specifically, in politics. I think the most obvious and stark example of this is Hitler, who demonized the Jews as wealthy, job-stealing pigs in order to unite the German people as his followers. The world watched in horror as the Nazis gained control and exterminated the Jewish population.

We see in the movie how Leonard’s entire life is consumed by catching his villain – similarly, we’ve witnessed how entire nations become consumed with the goal of catching or destroying an enemy. For a long time in our own country it was Saddam Hussein. For even longer it was Osama Bin Laden. The United States made it our mission to catch and kill these two men. And we did. So…good?

I said above how in Memento it gave Leonard’s life a purpose to catch the man who took his wife from him. But by the end of the movie, you question…is it really giving him purpose, or is it simply taking over him? Was it actually an unhealthy obsession? The man who killed his wife undoubtedly did an awful, horrific thing. But is spending every waking minute trying to catch him worth the satisfaction of finally killing him and getting revenge? (for those of you who want to see the movie, I am not going to say whether or not Leonard does catch the killer. Watch and find out!)

Similarly, is hunting down enemies such as Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden giving our country purpose or is it an unhealthy obsession we’ve developed? Both men committed atrocious acts and anybody would agree they deserve to pay for their crimes. But is our government spending exorbitant amounts of time, energy, and resources trying to take out our enemies worth it?

I’m not so sure. I think we’re spending too much time fighting evil when we could be creating good. Some people need to be caught and punished. That I will not deny. But I do believe that our country – all countries, for that matter – need to focus less attention on demonizing and hunting down enemies. After all, sometimes the greatest evil is born out of trying to destroy it.

“You’re living”

“Only for revenge”