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Thinking About Not Thinking: Buddhism, Meditation, and Film

Monday, April 13, 2009
3:00 p.m. Memento
Christopher Nolan (U.S., 2000)

Lecture by Robert Sharf


What is the place of memory in Buddhist thought and practice? Does “living in the moment” require letting go of the past, or coming to terms with it? Memento, a film about someone who has lost the ability to form short-term memories, will be used to ponder the often conflicting Buddhist theories about the role of memory in experience, consciousness, and meditation.—Robert Sharf

“A remarkable psychological-puzzle film, a crime conundrum that explores the narrative possibilities of noir, Memento turns its detective hero Leonard Shelby into a surrogate for the spectator, its backward narrative logic forcing us to embark on the kind of investigative work Shelby is engaged in. Shelby—played utterly convincingly by Guy Pearce as a combination of dogged determination and gaping bewilderment—is a former insurance investigator who, since his wife’s rape and apparent murder, suffers from a condition that makes him unable to form new memories. But despite his severely limited powers of recollection he has vowed to find his wife’s killer. . . . The final scene, which seemingly completes the narrative jigsaw . . . is a stunning tease, a tantalizingly ambiguous note on which to sign off, one that scatters our sense of certainty as we rerun the events of the past two hours in our heads.”—Sight & Sound

• Written by Nolan, based on a story by Jonathan Nolan. Photographed by Wally Pfister. With Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Mark Boone Jr. (113 mins, Color, 35mm, From Newmarket Films)