Memento: What Happens When Man Refuses to Bow to God’s Sovereign Rule

MementoIn my last post, I explained why I believe Shutter Island is a film that helps demonstrate the nature of self-deception that, according to the Word of God (cf.Romans1:19-21), is universally found among all unbelievers. This post touches on that subject as well, but in a slightly different manner. While Shutter Island presents us with a great picture of how the unbeliever attempts to deceive himself into thinking that he is not responsible for his own sins, and that he is a moral superhero, as opposed to a moral monster, Memento presents us with a great picture of how the unbeliever bucks against the Sovereignty of God. Whereas the main character of Shutter Island was the perpetrator of the murder of his wife, as well as the burning of his wife and their children (whom she drowned), the main character of Memento is actually not the perpetrator of the crime which is central to the film’s narrative. There is a familiar theme, however, and it is this: Rather than dealing with the truth, the main character of Memento persists in believing a lie, suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.

Memento‘s story is fairly simple, yet fairly complex. The main character of the film is a man who awoke one night to find his wife being raped and assaulted by a masked criminal, and who upon trying to save his wife’s life was knocked unconscious by the criminal, receiving a blow to the head that ruined his short-term memory. The last thing that he can remember is the scene of the night of his wife’s rape and murder. His entire life from that point onward has been the vain attempt to find the killer of his wife, whom he believes is named John G. In order to try to keep track of where he has been and what he has been doing from day to day, Leonard, the main character, writes himself notes and tattoos his body with what he believes is information that will aid him in his endeavor to find John G. That is the simple aspect of the story we find in Memento.

Where is the complexity of the narrative, then? Well, in the fact that there is no way to disentangle the truth from error, the facts from scraps of information that may or not be factual, real memories of real events from fabricated memories serving the purpose of quelling Leonard’s conscience. What we do know about Leonard is that he is man who ruined his short-term memory and lost his wife at the hands of a rapist/murderer who will never be found. What else do we know? We know that in spite of the fact that the individuals with whom Leonard interacts on a consistent basis throughout the film (i.e. Teddy and Natalie, who both profess to be friends) inform of the futility of his detective mission to find John G, Leonard persists in collecting what he believes to be evidence that will lead him to John G. Rather than accepting that the rape and murder of his wife constituted an event over which he had no control, and rather than accepting the fact that the identity of the rapist/murderer will likely never be known to him, Leonard continues in his endless collection of “evidence” in the hopes of finding the solution to a problem that only God knows. Teddy and Natalie, two of Leonard’s “friends” in the film, are aware of the fact that events like the one that Leonard went through are completely out of the control of Leonard’s hands.

And this is where the film presents us with a picture of fallen man that is explained in Romans 1:19-21. For life is completely out of the control of Leonard’s hands, and yet he believes that it is not. Leonard operates from day to day by assuming one presupposition: That he can gather data, analyze it, and draw certain conclusions about the identity of his wife’s killer. And yet, Leonard does not have the capacity to move forward. Instead, every collection of data only thickens his stack of (possibly) meaningless papers, or covers his body with more tattoos that may very well be completely useless. Leonard did not have the capacity to foresee the rape and murder of his wife, and he does not have the capacity to find his wife’s killer by this endless inductive process. In this way, Leonard is suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. It is God who decreed the events of Leonard’s life, and it is God who knows the identity of his wife’s killer. But Leonard refuses to bow to the Sovereign rule of God, and consequently lives a disjointed life that is marked by a fragmentary and delusional account of his past, present, and future existence.

The unbeliever who suppresses the truth in unrighteousness, like Leonard, refuses to bow the Sovereign rule of God, attempts to take matters into his own hands (despite a consistent testimony to the contrary being proven to him time and again), and tries to understand his past, present, and future on the basis of his finite capacity to gather, store, and interpret data. And yet, the unbeliever is blind, like Leonard, to his own inability to form certain conclusions on the basis of inductive reasoning. The unbeliever operates upon the same presupposition as well: Man is the measure of all things. Should this be pointed out to him, he will, like Leonard, vigorously contend by stating that his inductive method is foolproof, and that all he needs is one more piece of “evidence,” or one more day to try to reach a conclusion, ad infinitum.

-h.

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