Christopher Nolan’s film Momento and William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet are two very different works of fiction. At first glance one would never suspect the possibility of these two works of art sharing a connection. However, on the contrary, the similarity between obstacles, motives and note-taking in both works constitute the common underlining theme; truth, more specifically people's perception of the truth, consists of many layers of possible outcomes.
The central characters of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Nolan’s film Momento are consumed by the false assumption that satisfaction will be achieved through seeking revenge. This results in the destruction and tragic downfall of both protagonists caused by this motive. Hamlet is a revenge story that is based around a protagonist that is passionate about finding justice through the death of his uncle. It is evident that upon hearing the ghost’s confession in his murder, Hamlet is overcome with compassion, and without question immediately pledges his efforts in avenging his father. This is apparent after Hamlet is asked to remember his father’s plea for revenge, and he replies by reassuring the ghost that, “While memory holds a seat in this distracted globe. Remember thee? Yea, from the table of my memory I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records...and thy commandment all alone shall live” (1∙5∙96-102). He directly promises to focus his attentions on no other matter besides the quest to fulfill the Ghost’s plea and rest his soul. Revenge is also used as the main motive in Christopher Nolan’s film Momento. Leonard is a man who has set out on a quest to find his wife’s killer and avenge her. However, due to his condition, Leonard suffers from a form of amnesia that enables him to create new memories. This forces him to rely on numerous methods of note taking as constant reminders of his purpose. The use of revenge as a motive is clearly evident in Leonard’s response to Natalie’s opinion of his quest being pointless, when he states, “My wife deserves vengeance, and it doesn’t make any difference whether I know about it” (Momento, 2000). Despite revenge acting as the joint motive behind both protagonists’ actions, ironically in Hamlet, the plot is driven by his inability to actually commit to the act of revenge, while in Momento, Leonard’s inability to create new memories results in a tragic realization. No matter how many times he tries to pursue this “John G,” Leonard will live in constant ignorance of the reality of how his wife truly died, and therefore will continue searching for pointless victims to fulfill his cycle of false reality. In Hamlet’s case, revenge also causes the death of innocent victims (such as Ophelia and Polonius), yet he is blind to the destruction caused by actions due to his ignorance of what is right and wrong. In these ways, both plots are driven by revenge, yet the consequences of ignorance results in the destruction of both protagonists.
In the quests of both the film and play, both protagonists struggle to overcome an inability to trust people which become a major obstacle in the attempts to achieve their goals. In the film Momento, Leonard’s form of amnesia prevents him from being able to instil his trust in others due to the chance one might take advantage of his situation and use it for personal gain. The consequence of trusting others is seen when Burt (the owner of the motel Leonard is staying in) admits, “Business is slow. I told my boss about you, about your condition. He told me to try and rent you another room” (Momento, 2000). This is evidence of the trouble Leonard faces when trying to determine who is trying to help him, and who his enemies are. This obstacle of trust is also seen in Leonard’s association with Natalie. Throughout the majority of the movie, it appears as though Natalie is helping Leonard avenge his wife’s death due to her own personal loss; however it is quickly revealed