The InsiderOne Daily Report

  Wednesday, May 2, 2001

False Memories

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: Christopher Nolan's disturbing film noir, "Memento," is about memory — and what might happen if one lost the ability to create new memories. Beginning with what, chronologically, would be the ending, the film takes us, scene by scene, back to the beginning. The main character, Leonard (Guy Pearce), tells us that his wife was raped and killed, that his last memory is of seeing his wife dying, and that he is on the trail of her killer. To try and get around his condition, Leonard writes notes to himself and takes Polaroids that he annotates, and even tattoos what he believes is crucial information onto his body. He believes the memories he does have — of all that happened before his wife's murder — are accurate. But are they? How accurate, really, are our own memories? "We tend to think of memory as a camera, or a tape recorder, where the past can be filed intact and called up at will," wrote author Tobias Wolff in a piece that appeared on the New York Times Op-Ed page April 28. "But memory is none of these things. Memory is a storyteller, and like all storytellers it imposes form on the raw mass of experience. It creates shape and meaning by emphasizing some things and leaving others out. It finds connections between events, suggests cause and effect, makes each of us the central figure in an epic journey toward darkness or light." As I grew up, my mother and my grandmother would repeat, over and over, stories about me when I was younger. When our family got together, which was often, I heard those stories. I heard them so many times that, today, I can't remember if my memories of my early youth are really my memories, or my memory of those stories. There are many, many images from my past that I can summon up — for example, things I saw at a rock concert I attended in the mid-'60s on Mt. Tamalpais, where I took photographs of The Doors and saw Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band and a version of The Byrds, and wore a certain wide-brimmed hat and a particular psychedelic shirt, are crystal clear. Yet other things in my past just seem to run together — or just aren't there. It sometimes seems that I have ridiculous details about rock groups at my fingertips, yet the names of many athletes whose names I've heard over and over elude me. I often write notes to myself — I've been doing that since I was a teenager, and it's something I picked up from my father, who always had "to do" lists. In front of me right now, as I write, is a note that says "4:30 p.m." — it means that I'm to be somewhere at 4:30 this afternoon to take photographs of some friends. Without that note, I might not remember that appointment, or it might slip my mind as I was lost in writing, or digitally preparing a photo for publication. Like Leonard, we learn to work around the quirks of our individual brains. In the April 27 New York Times there's a story about watching the movie "Exodus" with Miramax Films co-chairman Harvey Weinstein, who hadn't seen the film since he was a boy. At the time, it made a strong impression on him. Now, "Oh my gosh, I can't believe how wooden this is," Weinstein tells writer Rick Lyman. "You can't believe Dalton Trumbo wrote this. I am listening to this and thinking my memories of this are so much fonder." Writes Lyman: "Memories of movies can be weirdly fluid and tricky, especially those that hit you at just the right time in your life." Perhaps that is true of all of our memories, throughout our life.

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Michael Goldberg is the president of He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

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