Leonard Shelby

“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 above are words from the movie Memento. Those are the words of Leonard Shelby, the main figure in the movie. He suffers from short term memory loss. I am not sure whether my understanding is as lousy as his memory, because when the movie ended I didn’t understand the story. Well, the movie is unique because the plot doesn’t flow like those in normal movies do. But that was exactly what confused me. But anyway, what I want to discuss here is the scene near the end of the movie, where the words above were narrated. The scene captivated me much, and it still does. It depicts him driving his car, and while he was driving, he thought of those words.

He closes his eyes, and asks,
“Do I believe the world’s still there? Is it still out there?”
He opens his eyes, and answers,
“… Yeah.”

What surprises me from this monologue is the simple truth it declares–belief is necessary in order for us to know anything at all. It is a simple truth that most people take for granted. At least two basic beliefs are present from the monologue. Firstly, that the world outside one’s own mind exists and continues to exist even when one is not realising it. Leonard shows us the truth of this by the simple experiment he does: closing and opening his eyes. Someone may say that he knows the world exists because he sees it. But what if he closes his eyes? What does he see now? Complete darkness. Does that mean that the world is complete darkness now? How does he know that it isn’t complete darkness? Who knows that when he closes his eyes, the world indeed turns into darkness? How does he know that the world doesn’t cease to exist, or change its colour?

Secondly is the belief that one’s past actions exist, or in other words, belief in one’s memory. We all live in the past. Why? Simply because the present is periodless. For who can quantify the present? All of our experiences have period, and as long as they have period, they belong to the past. And if we all live in the past, then we rely all the time to our memory. But how does one know that one’s memory is true? If I say a word when I am typing this, at this point in time the word is no longer heard, but it still is in my memory. Am I hearing the word now? No. But I hear it in my memory. My memory tells me that I have just said a word, and I believe it. For how can I not believe it? For to say that I don’t believe in my memory means that I believe in my memory, namely that I said I don’t believe in my memory. Even someone like Leonard Shelby has to believe in his memory, how short it is. For how can he say that the world is still there, unless he believe what his memory tells him, namely that he had just seen the world before he closed his eyes?

If we don’t believe that the world outside our own mind exists and continue to exist even when we are not realising it, and if we don’t believe in our memory, everything will have no meaning. It will be impossible to know anything at all; it will be impossible to make sense of life. Belief is necessary in order for us to know, to live. But why do we never question such basic beliefs?


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