Thursday, 5 November 2009

Films in reverse

When I wrote my last post, I did not have the foresight to know that I would be studying the film Memento, in order to teach a class on film and philosophy on Saturday. There are two interwoven series of scenes, the black and white ones which run forward in time from the beginning of the story to the middle, and the colour ones which run backward in time from the end to the middle. The central character. Leonard, has anterograde amnesia: he can remember everything up to a traumatic event, but can form no new memories of events since then. After five minutes, the past has gone for ever. So we, watching the colour scenes, are like him: we do not know what has just happened.

There are many points of contact with philosophy. There is the obvious connection with the memory criterion for personal identity, with the twist that Leonard is at all times psychologically rooted in the unchanging memories of his pre-trauma life. There is the fact that Leonard takes notes and photographs to help him to keep track of things. If we take Andy Clark's line that our notepads should be thought of as extensions of ourselves, rather than merely as external tools, then Leonard plus his notes and photographs can be seen as an organism that does have a continuous memory. And there is the fact that Leonard is used by others, in ways which mean that they would certainly not have agency-regarding relations with him in Carol Rovane's sense.

But for me, the most striking thing was something that was not there. When I watched Cinq fois deux, which presents five scenes from a relationship in reverse order, I found that scenes shown later seriously upset my interpretations of scenes shown earlier. The person who appeared to be in the wrong, turned out not to be (until the next scene). There was no such upsetting of interpretations with Memento. Perhaps this was because it is an action movie, rather than a film about a relationship.

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