Now Leonard is in bed at night when a door opens and closes. The clock is there as is the stuffed animal, so we know what we are seeing is what happened before he performed his fire ritual. He is still in a dream state, thinking he is in his home, waking up at night at the time his wife was murdered, which adds to the confusion of illusion versus reality. There is a blonde woman (Kimberly Campbell) wearing lingerie in the bathroom using cocaine. Leonard tells her to get out and he then has his bag of items that he will proceed to burn as he walks to the car.
Saturday, October 26, 2019
SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.
Memento (2001), directed by Christopher Nolan, is based on a story by his brother, Jonathan Nolan. The title refers to some objective thing that serves to remind one of something else. The stress here is relying on what is outside the individual, as opposed to depending on one’s mental capabilities. The film is about memory, how it can be unreliable, and how we change it to fit our needs. The movie is a puzzle which reflects how difficult life would be if we didn’t have memories to rely on, whether they are genuine or tainted. And, the film is cynical about how the devious nature of people surfaces to take advantage of others through lies, which in a way create false impressions that are stored as memories. It would be difficult to summarize this movie, since most of it is told backwards, and the story is told by an especially unreliable narrator. The black and white scenes are in chronological order and mostly deal with the main character talking on the telephone. The color episodes are in reverse order. I decided to address the plot as it is shown to mirror the experience of the viewer. (You may need Tylenol after reading this post).
The film opens with Leonard (Guy Pearce) holding a Polaroid photo that is fully developed and which depicts a bloody crime scene. The picture begins to fade, reversing the normal process, to mirror Leonard’s short-term memory loss, which is a real condition known as anterograde amnesia. Leonard shoots Teddy (Joe Pantolianao), and then the picture rewinds as the spent cartridge jumps back into the gun to reset the scene to just before Leonard shoots the man. The effect is to stress how the story will play out in reverse.
Leonard provides voice-over narration which allows for the audience to identify with what he is going through. He wakes up, but he really is going from sleeping dreams to a sort of waking dream, since reality is just as shaky for him. He’s trying to get oriented, finding he is in a motel room. He calls it an “anonymous room,” and for Leonard the whole world has that unknown quality. It’s difficult for him to know how long he has been there. He then is outside asking the motel manager, Burt (Mark Boone Junior), if he recognizes Teddy from a photo Leonard carries. Teddy is already there and he enters the lobby, calls him Lenny, and says he has told him about his memory problem every time he sees him. So, there has been a lot of repetition between these two men. Teddy acts like his car is Leonard’s and the fancy Jaguar belongs to Teddy. However, Leonard took a photo of the sports car and chastises Teddy for messing with those that are handicapped. Teddy is funny as he says he can tell the same jokes over and over because Leonard won’t remember them. Leonard’s car has Nevada plates, which doesn’t fit because he later says he is from San Francisco. The driver’s window was smashed to bits, but of course Leonard doesn’t know how. Through most of the film, Leonard has these mysterious scratches on the left side of his face. He tells Teddy he has a lead to go to an abandoned warehouse, but doesn’t remember why he is going there. We do learn from this statement that Leonard is investigating something.
As they pull into the building’s parking lot, there is a pickup truck there. Teddy says it’s been there for years, but Leonard points out that there are fresh tire tracks. The car seat has bullets sitting on it. These are clues to the true story of what is happening. Leonard goes inside, looks at Teddy’s photo on which he has written on the back, “Don’t believe his lies. He’s the one. Kill him.” He whacks Teddy with the gun, points the weapon at him saying he has to ask Leonard’s wife for forgiveness, and that he’ll “pay” for what he’s done. Teddy says Leonard doesn't know what he has become. Teddy says they should go down to the basement to find out who Leonard really is. But, as Teddy moves, the gun goes off.
The next scene has Leonard back in the motel room. He says he must write notes, and prefers tattoos, since written material can get lost and tampered with. He wrote on his wrist, “Remember Sammy Jankis (Stephen Towbolowski),” who he says had the same problem as Leonard, which seems strangely coincidental. He says Sammy didn’t have a system, wrote numerous notes, and mixed them up. He says that “Sammy had no drive. No reason to make it work.” But what keeps Leonard going is his quest for vengeance, or else he probably would fall apart because of his condition. Leonard adds to the note on the photo that Teddy is the one he should kill, and he loads a gun. We are now watching the time before the scene where we first saw Leonard with Teddy. Leonard reminds Burt that he doesn’t want to receive any phone calls because he wants to look at somebody when he talks to a person to assess accuracy. When asked what was the last memory that he retained, he tells Burt it was of his wife (Jorga Fox) dying. As we later learn, that is not accurate. By the time he meets Teddy in the lobby he has already forgotten what he wrote on the photo.
The next scene goes back to when Leonard was talking about having a system of keeping notes. He looks at the part of his leg where he left a note on a bandage to shave, which he does so he can write in that spot. When it comes to written notes, he says he can recognize his own handwriting to verify that the information is what he recorded, and he has to be careful about what others provide so he is not taken advantage of. He has become suspicious because of his mental status, but as we see it is impossible to prevent being used. He gets a phone call, and asks who it is, but we know he tells the clerk in the scene we already viewed to hold all calls, so this phone call action preceded that request.
We jump backward some more. Leonard finds himself in a restroom without a clue as to why he is there. In a way, he is like a person with dementia, but he is aware of his condition and has old memories. However, his situation would be terrifying for most people. He notices the note on his wrist about Sammy. He then sees other writing on his arm that state the “Facts,” which is an ironic heading, given his precarious ability to even recognize what is true. He realizes he is in a diner, and already forgot that he left a large envelope that says “For Leonard from Natalie (Carrie-Ann Moss)” written on it. He has a photo of the motel where he is staying but he forgot the location. He needs to write down directions from the waiter because he won’t be able to recall verbal information, no matter how simple. In his room he has a map on the wall with arrows, and he pastes photos of Teddy, his car, the motel and Natalie onto the map. He opens the envelope which has a copy of Teddy’s California driver’s license, but the name on it is John Edward Gammell (IMDb notes that the expiration date on the license is 2/29/01, which is a day that doesn’t exist because 2001 was not a leap year. This fact adds to the confusion about what is real and what is not in this story). He already has written on Teddy’s photo that he should not “believe his lies.” He has Teddy’s phone number on the photo, calls him, addresses him by his real name to see his response, and Teddy says he’ll be right over. Lenny takes off his shirt and he has notes on his body. Some are warnings about his vulnerability. He wrote that the perpetrator he seeks is a white male whose first name is John or James, and the last name starts with a “G,” which would fit Teddy’s real name. He also has the license plate number of Teddy’s car written on his arm. He has a note tattooed backwards on his chest. He looks at the message in the mirror so it will appear legible. It says that John G. raped and murdered his wife. Leonard now adds that he should kill Teddy onto his photo. The use of the backwards writing stresses how the plot is being told. It also reflects what Leonard has become, a person who seeks revenge through murder.
Leonard is talking on the phone and says he doesn’t remember speaking to whoever is on the other end of the line. The other person mentions how they talked before, and that Leonard mentioned Sammy to help explain his own situation. Going backward, we see Leonard going to meet Natalie in the diner. He has notes that say she has lost someone and will help him out of pity. She has a bruised lip. He doesn’t remember telling her his situation and having met her before. She calls him Lenny, but he says he doesn’t like being called by that nickname, even though his wife used it. He thus has conflicting feelings, not liking the name but it reminds him of how much he loved his wife. He wants Natalie to take off her sunglasses, echoing how he said he likes to look people in the eyes to validate what they are saying. But, that practice doesn’t really work out for Leonard. This scene is where she gave him the information about Teddy and his name fitting the John G. person he believes killed his wife. She says given his condition he won’t remember his vengeful act, so why go through with it (we hear this objection later by Teddy). He says, “Just because there are things I don’t remember doesn’t make my actions meaningless.” His recollection, his personal involvement, he believes is divorced from the validity of his behavior. He is arguing that if one commits to a purpose, the act alone is what is important, providing meaning to an individual’s existence in an objective reality. His metaphor is that just because one closes one’s eyes doesn’t make the world disappear (this statement is also echoed later). He says he might get another “freaky tattoo,” as she called his skin illustrations, to remind himself of what he has done. But given his condition, that satisfaction would still be fleeting.
Natalie asks about his wife, which he recalls since he has memories up to his trauma. He closes his eyes at her request and sees images of his wife which accentuates how much he misses her. With a hesitation of speech and a look away we get the sense that Natalie may envy his relationship with his wife. She added the address of the abandoned building we already saw where he can kill John G. She says that Teddy (aka John G.) has shown up at the bar where she works. She has Leonard’s room key, so we know for a fact they have met before. She says they have something in common, both being survivors. But to survive in a ruthless world, others may have to be sacrificed, even those one can relate to. She seems like an ally, but in Leonard’s world, everyone is suspect, even himself, since he can’t really remember what, as Teddy said, he has become.
Leonard is back on the phone, and the calls are sometimes interrupted (but we don’t know who he is talking to yet). We learn that Leonard worked as an insurance investigator. The irony here is that Leonard thinks he knows how to track down the facts, but this story shows how truth is hard to come by. He thought Sammy was a fraud, but his own disability has changed his mind, which is an admission that even in his life before his trauma, he was not accurate about what was going on. There are shots of him with people that he says he assessed by observing their eyes and body movements which suggested nervousness about what they were passing off as verifiable. He says he was good at his work, but not so when it came to Sammy. In each of the scenes the audience is placed in Lenny’s state of unknowing, but we have the advantage of remembering what happened after the events end.
Teddy and Leonard have lunch, and Leonard asks if he mentioned Sammy, who he remembers from before the trauma. It is interesting that he wrote Sammy’s name on his wrist to urge him to remember him, as if he may not be totally accurate about his memory even before his head injury. As we discover, he has changed what he can remember to a different version of the truth to suit his own purposes. Teddy says Leonard already told him about Sammy. He also mentions John G., which Leonard seems to not recall. Teddy says he is the guy Leonard is after. The knowledge of the identity of who he is pursuing followed the assault, so he even has to be reminded about details concerning his purpose in life, which points to how slippery his hold on reality is. Teddy warns Leonard that he was worried that someone may be setting Leonard up to kill the wrong person. Is Teddy the wrong person? If so, the statement is darkly ironic, in many ways, as we learn. Leonard says he can’t rely on verbal information like what Teddy is offering, only on his recorded notes. Teddy stresses that it’s not safe to rely on notes, as opposed to memory, when a man’s life is at stake. Leonard then indicts memory, saying “Memory’s not perfect. It’s not even that good.” He emphasizes that the police base cases on facts and don’t really depend on testimony, which implies the latter can be subject to prejudices and preferences. Leonard says memories are “just an interpretation,” and are not a verifiable record of what happened. But, this movie argues that if one accepts distorted evidence, then even the power of facts is weakened.
At lunch with Teddy, which is before he meets Natalie, Leonard does not have the key to his room (which we know he left at Natalie’s). He goes back to the motel, which he must continually recall by looking at the photo of it. He thinks he left his key in the room. Burt, the manager, takes him to one room, which has some of Leonard’s items. Burt took advantage of Leonard’s memory loss by renting him a second room, thereby ripping him off. He admits it, and says that Leonard should get receipts so he doesn’t get ripped off. Leonard says he will write that down, but he is being sarcastic, because the man who cheated him is providing advice on how not to be swindled. It, however, indicates that Leonard can’t protect himself in all situations, and we learn, even writing down information may not be accurate. Leonard has a note about meeting Natalie at the diner, which lets us know that scene occurred after this scene in linear time.
Leonard is shaving his leg where he will use the space to jot down info. He is on the phone relating the story of Sammy, who, after a car accident that did not appear to be that significant, began “acting funny.” Leonard relates that the man couldn’t “get a handle” on what was happening, which reflects Leonard’s situation. Doctors found some minor problem with Sammy’s hippocampus. But, Sammy can’t remember anything new for more than a couple of minutes. He can’t work and medical bills accumulate, so Leonard went to investigate. Sammy could not follow TV shows, and liked commercials because they are short. He can give his wife (Harriet Sansom Harris) her insulin shot because he learned how to do that prior to the accident. Leonard says he thought there was some small amount of recognition when he visited, although Sammy denied knowing Leonard. Leonard tells the person on the phone that he thought Sammy may have been a bad actor and ordered further testing.
We next see Leonard back at the time he was at Natalie’s place. He is in bed with her as he wakes up, but, of course, doesn’t recall who she is until he takes out her photo which notes she will help him. She says that she has to meet her contact at the DMV to get John G.’s information. She says that she is helping him because he helped her, which, just like Leonard, we don’t know what she is talking about. She sets up the meeting at the restaurant, which we already witnessed.
Leonard is back on the phone talking about Sammy, who he says could not learn new tasks. Leonard says people sustaining short-term memory loss through a physical injury should be able to do some things by way of “conditioning.” That is, through repeated behavior. When the doctors tested Sammy by having him pick up various shaped objects, some of which were electrified, he should have learned not to choose the charged ones. But, he didn’t and repeatedly picked up ones that gave him a shock.
The tale jumps back to when Leonard showed up at Natalie’s house before the morning after when they were in bed. Leonard is angry because he has a photo of someone named Dodd (Callum Keith Rennie), which depicts the man bleeding from a facial injury with his mouth taped, and he wants to know who is the guy. Leonard wants to know what she has involved him in. Natalie tells Leonard he did her a favor after he inquired about the lip wound. He feels something isn’t quite right here (and his instincts are correct). She says Dodd hurt her and Leonard wanted to help by going after Dodd. But, Leonard says her words are not what he can rely on. He knows he can predict the sound wood will make when he knocks on it, or how an object will feel in his hands. He calls these “Certainties. It’s the kind of memory you take for granted.” This type of mental knowledge, which is what Leonard is referring to, is unchanging and dependable, unlike the shifting and, therefore, unreliable nature of people.
Natalie tries to calm him down after he expresses his present frustration compared to the time he spent with his wife. She notices his tattoos under his shirt. She says she lost someone, and she has a photo of herself with a man she calls Jimmy. She says he left and didn’t come back after meeting a man named Teddy. So we know Teddy was somehow involved with Jimmy and Natalie. When she finds out that Leonard plans on killing John G., she then offers her help. They are in bed later (as we saw) and because of his condition, Leonard implies he has no emotional sense of how long ago his wife was killed because he has no memories to fill up the time between her death and the present. Leonard questions, “How am I supposed to heal if I can’t feel time?” The immediacy of his pain defies the distancing of time from devastating events. His condition does not allow the application of the mental process that helps “time heals all wounds.”
Back on the phone, Leonard says his company turned down Sammy’s claim because the conclusion was that he had a psychological problem, not a physical one, and his condition was not covered. Cynically, Leonard says that Sammy’s wife had to pay the medical bills and Leonard received a promotion for saving his company money. He maintains that the difference between Sammy and himself is that conditioning works for Leonard. That is why he builds in a system of repetitive actions to help him function, whereas Sammy became helpless. Habit and routine work for him. But, even though he doesn’t mention it here, he has a mission, to kill his wife’s attacker, which keeps him grounded, unlike Sammy, who felt adrift.
Again the narrative is in reverse as Leonard wakes up but again does not know why he is in a motel room. But, he finds Dodd stuck in a closet, his mouth taped. Teddy shows up at the door. He sees his photo so he knows what Teddy looks like. Teddy says Leonard called him for some help. At Teddy’s suggestion Leonard asks the bound man who he is to make sure he isn’t John G. He has a photo verifying that the man is Dodd and he has a note that says to take care of him for Natalie. Leonard then realizes it is not his room, and must be Dodd’s, because he found a gun in it and nothing relating to him. He says given his condition, he couldn’t legally own a gun. Teddy says, “I fucking hope not,” which is funny in the scene, but our laughter is undercut by the fact that we know Leonard will shoot Teddy. Leonard uses Dodd’s gun to threaten him to leave town. We now come to the scene, which we already saw, where he questions Natalie about Dodd.
As we return to the phone call, Leonard says Sammy’s wife was starting to fall apart, not only because of the bills, but because she felt if her husband’s condition wasn’t physical he should be able to overcome his problem. She is seen as being hysterically frustrated with his inability to even write down a phone message. Leonard tells the caller that he never claimed that Sammy was faking. Leonard seems to want to alleviate his guilt over the (alleged) anguish and pain suffered by the couple.
Leonard is now in a bathroom with a bottle of whiskey in his hands, saying he doesn’t feel drunk. He is taking a shower when Dodd walks in and they get into a fight. We now see how Leonard overcomes the man and ties him up. He has a note that contains Dodd’s location at a different motel than Leonard’s. The note also says to help Natalie take care of Dodd. But Leonard forgot all of this when he went to sleep and, as we saw, he realized later that it wasn’t his room, but Dodd’s. We see him calling Teddy leaving a message to go there, which we see, he did.
Retreating further back in the timeline, Leonard finds himself running, trying to figure out why. He thinks he is chasing Dodd, then realizes the man is coming after him with his gun. Leonard goes to the Jaguar which already has the window smashed as we saw earlier (or later, depending on how you look at it). He checks his notes which has a description of Dodd and goes to where Dodd lives, but accidentally goes to the wrong room. He busts in the door and accidentally slams it against the wrong man. When he realizes his error he comically says, “Sorry.” This scene emphasizes Leonard’s confusion (and ours, since we are running in his shoes, so to speak), and shows how dangerous the lack of memory can be not only for the afflicted but also for others around him. Leonard then goes to the correct room and breaks in before Dodd returns. He says he looks for a weapon and grabs the bottle of booze that’s in the room. He waits in the bathroom. But then he forgets what he is doing, and that is why he said he didn’t feel drunk, since he wasn’t drinking. So we are at the point where Dodd surprises him in the shower.
Leonard is at an abandoned industrial site, but then he drives away, his car window intact at this earlier point. A pick-up truck follows him while he is driving, honking, and Leonard doesn’t know who it is. The truck pulls up and it is Dodd driving it, and the man points his gun at Leonard, who veers off and parks. Dodd shows up and shoots out the window of the Jaguar as Leonard escapes with Dodd in pursuit. We now know why he was running, even if Leonard, later, does not recall.
Even further back in the story, Leonard receives a phone call as he inks a tattoo that says something about drugs being involved under the category of “Facts.” We recede in time to when Leonard arrived at the deserted industrial site at night. He has a bag that contains objects relating to his wife. He burns them, including a hairbrush, a stuffed animal toy, and a book. We get flashbacks of him with his wife. He asks why does she read the same story over and over because he thought that the purpose is to discover what comes next. It is ironic that here Leonard seems to stress the negative part of memory since it spoils a tale if it is already known. His wife just enjoys the book, she says. The film is commenting on storytelling in general, and especially movies. Many see some movies many times because they relive the thrills, the craft, the characters, etc., even if the plot is known. In Nolan’s complicated films, such as this one, Inception, and Interstellar, a viewer can discover something new with each repeated viewing.
Leonard also burns a clock, which symbolically points to how time is destroyed for him with his condition because without memory, as he noted earlier, he can’t experience its passage. Importantly, we also have a flashback of Leonard playfully pinching the exposed thigh of his wife as she recoils at the action. This fleeting shot will be echoed significantly in the story. But, why is Leonard burning these items that contain lasting memories of his family that connect to events before the attack? Maybe some memories are too painful, and we would like those to go away (As in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). He notes that he probably burned some of his wife’s things before, and makes a seemingly contradictory statement but which fits his torn state of mind when he addresses his dead wife, saying he “Can’t remember to forget you.” Dawn breaks and that is when he drove away from the desolate area, which reflects his emotional state.
While on the phone he gets some information about the drug angle Leonard believes was involved in the attack on his family. He notes that there was a car with blood found in it near his house. He says that the police were not looking for John G., so we realize Leonard is following his own theory on the crime. He has numerous notes that he says he acquired from the authorities with whom he dealt with in his job.
In the phone conversation, Leonard says that drugs were also found in the suspect’s car. He wonders why did the police say that the perpetrator was an addict who broke into his house to rob it to buy drugs if he already had his stash? He says the real criminal, John G., may have left the drugs there, or planted them. The person on the other end of call offers that the man was a dealer and that seems to be a reasonable explanation for the illegal substances being in the car. Despite his handicap, it appears that Leonard strives to make sense of the details surrounding the assault. The desire to solve the mystery fuels his behavior.
We then backtrack to how the blonde woman entered the story. Leonard calls an escort service. She arrives and he wants to recreate the night of the attack, possibly to jar his saved memories of the event to discover something he overlooked. She is to place the objects that he will eventually burn around the room. They stay in bed until he falls asleep. She is then supposed to slam the door to wake him up. The experience turns out not to help Leonard, and instead the desire to recall these horrible memories only makes him upset.
There is a shift back to the phone call providing Sammy’s backstory. His wife visits Leonard at his office. She says she hid food around the house to see if Sammy would remember where it was when he was hungry, but it doesn’t work. She appears desperate. Her words that Sammy “might be imagining this whole problem” resonates with Leonard’s situation as we learn more about his story and investigation. She asks Leonard if Sammy is faking, because if not, she would say goodbye to the Sammy she knew and accept the one that has replaced him. Leonard tells her that Sammy is physically able to make new memories. On the phone Leonard says he thought he did the right thing because the wife needed something to believe in. Leonard’s quest is similar because he requires a purpose for his existence following his own trauma.
The next previous event begins with Leonard getting into his car and finding Teddy there, who, of course, he has forgotten. Teddy informs him that his business in the town is finished, and he is only there because of Natalie, whose house he just walked out of. Teddy says that Leonard shouldn’t trust Natalie, who has seen his Jaguar and expensive suit and is working an angle. Teddy says that Natalie’s boyfriend is a drug dealer. Teddy gives Leonard coasters which display the name of the bar where Natalie works, which, of course, Leonard has already visited, but doesn’t remember being there. Teddy says that if people are looking for her boyfriend, they’ll come after her, and she will use Leonard to protect her. Leonard is suspicious that maybe Teddy is involved in Natalie’s situation, but Teddy claims she doesn’t even know him. Leonard asks why is Teddy following him. Teddy just says he’s trying to help Leonard. However, we know from a previous scene that Natalie said that her boyfriend had a meeting with a man named Teddy, so we know they are linked in some way. We are in the scene where Teddy tells him to go to the Discount Motel, because he wants Leonard to stay away from Natalie, maybe to protect Leonard, but also to keep him in the dark about Teddy’s activities. Leonard is resistant, and Teddy says Leonard only knows who he used to be, but not what he has become, which echoes his words that occurred in the earlier (that is, later) time. Leonard is like Sammy, in that a trauma has changed who he is. Teddy tells Leonard to write on his photo of her that he should trust Natalie. After Teddy leaves, he sees that he has written the same thing about Teddy. He crosses out the negative line about Natalie, because, like Fox Mulder in The X-Files, he’s trying to decide which lie to believe.
While on the telephone, he pulls off a bandage covering a healing tattoo, which says he shouldn’t answer the phone. He then asks who he is talking to. Is he forgetting who he is conversing with in the middle of the call? The other party abruptly hangs up, which adds an ominous feel to the situation. The phone starts ringing, but Leonard does not answer. He calls the front desk and says he doesn’t want to receive any more calls. Later we see Burt the motel manager coming to Leonard’s room saying that even though he didn’t want any calls, there was a cop calling him. Leonard still refuses to take the call, as his paranoia has grown.
As the story backs up again, Leonard is in Natalie’s house, and he is desperately looking for a pen to write down something before he forgets. Natalie gets out of her car and approaches the house. She is bleeding from a facial wound. She says Dodd beat her up after going to him as Leonard told her to do. She says she told Dodd that she didn’t have Jimmy’s money, or his drugs. She says that a man named Teddy took everything. She says Dodd didn’t believe her, said if she didn’t have the drugs by the next day, he would kill her, and then started hitting her. Leonard says he’ll go see Dodd. She gives him information about Dodd, but said he might be looking for Leonard since she had to tell Dodd something because of the beating, so she told him what car Leonard was driving. But why that information? Leonard should have been more suspicious, but men sometimes allow logic to be invalidated when a pretty woman is involved. Leonard walks out of the house, where, as we saw, he found Teddy in his car.
We regress to the time just before Natalie entered her house with a bloody face. She is angry and nasty toward Leonard. She says that Dodd and his partners think she took the money that belongs to her boyfriend, Jimmy (Larry Holden). Jimmy took money and met “Some guy named Teddy,” and he hasn’t returned. When she comes into the house she secretly puts all of the pens in her purse, so we know she up to no good because she is preventing Leonard from recording what happens. She accuses Leonard of protecting Teddy, who Leonard doesn’t even remember at this point. She wants Leonard to help her by killing Dodd for her and she tells him she will pay him. Leonard is outraged. We now see Natalie’s true colors as she tells Leonard she will use him because of his disability, and he won’t remember what she says and does. She is cruel as she tells Leonard they will be friends or even lovers (which is what happens). She curses him and his dead wife and provokes him by calling his wife a whore who gave Leonard venereal disease that brought on his memory problems. She keeps piling on the insults until he hits her. That is how she received the facial wounds. She then leaves the house. Leonard helplessly searches to write down his fading memories but can’t find any pens. Natalie comes in saying it was Dodd who beat her up, as we witnessed previously. Leonard is a pathetic person here as he is manipulated by an unscrupulous, selfish person who takes advantage of his vulnerability brought on by his condition.
The next scene has Leonard with Natalie as she offers her couch for him to sleep on before he goes to the motel that Teddy tells him about. She asks about his investigation, and he says that the police don’t think the man Leonard is looking for exists. He tells her the story of the night of the attack, which the audience sees dramatized. He heard glass shattering and his wife was not in bed. There were muffled sounds coming from the bedroom. He grabbed his gun and shot a man in the bathroom who was next to his wife, who was wrapped in plastic. But, he was hit in the head with a blackjack and slammed into the mirror by a second man, causing Leonard to have brain damage. He explains that John G. (the second man) removed the dead man’s gun, replaced it with the sap weapon, and left his car to make it look like there was only one assailant.
We are back in Leonard’s motel room as he refuses to answer the phone. Someone pushes an envelope under his door which has writing on the outside that urges Leonard to take the calls. (Why not just knock and meet in person? Another suspicious act). There is a picture of a smiling Leonard in the envelope with his shirt off and he’s pointing to the blank space on his chest with a bloody hand. It’s the spot he said he was leaving for when he caught up with John G. The question is who took that photo?
Leonard has a coaster from the bar that says he is supposed to meet Natalie there. At the bar, she says they haven’t met before, but she heard about “the memory guy.” Natalie says her boyfriend told her about Leonard. His name is Jimmy Grants, which sounds a lot like John G. She says Jimmy said Leonard was staying at the Discount Inn. Natalie also says there was a cop interested in a guy with memory issues. She wonders how Leonard knew to see her and he says he found the coaster in his pocket saying to meet her. She questions him by saying, “Your pocket?” This remark is a clue that maybe Leonard wasn’t the person that the coaster was meant for.
Leonard is now back on the phone, and we now know he is talking with the cop. He reveals that he has feelings such as anger and guilt, but can’t associate the emotions with events. It is impossible for most to comprehend how feelings could have no connection to experiences. He says maybe he is suffering a penance for not understanding Sammy. He then tells the policeman what happened to Sammy and his wife. At the couple’s house, she tells Sammy that it’s time for her insulin shot. She then waits a couple of minutes and says again it’s time for her shot. She does this one more time as Sammy gives her three shots close together. Leonard says maybe she was giving her husband the ultimate test to prevent her from being harmed, or she couldn’t live with the situation any longer and wanted to die. She went into a coma and did not recover. Sammy couldn’t understand what happened, afterwards not even remembering that his wife had died, and he eventually went to live in an institution. Leonard admits he was wrong about Sammy and his wife, who wasn’t concocting a plan to get insurance money based on her husband's supposed illness. Leonard thought he saw recognition in Sammy’s eyes when Leonard visited. But now that Leonard has the same condition he knows that Sammy faked remembering Leonard, just as Leonard now does, and pretended to act like he knew others, because that was what was expected of people so as not to look like “a freak.”
We then witness Leonard in a tattoo parlor having the license plate number inked on his arm as one of his “facts.” Teddy shows up and says that Leonard has to get out of there, needs to change his clothes and his car, and get away and adopt a new identity. Which is what has actually happened to Leonard, as we learn. He says the cop is looking for Leonard. Teddy says the man is a bad cop who knows Leonard is not good on the phone and keeps calling and shoving notes under his door to shake Leonard up. The cop supposedly is looking into John G. being a local drug dealer and who turns out to be Jimmy Grants. The cop wants to get info on Jimmy’s drug operation and thinks Leonard is involved. Teddy knows the policeman because he claims he was a snitch for the cop. Leonard finds the bar coaster in the pocket of his jacket. However, Leonard has the note that says don’t believe Teddy’s lies. He goes out a back window, gets into the Jaguar, and heads to the bar to meet Natalie. When he pulls into the parking lot, Natalie is taking out trash and thinks it’s Jimmy, because Leonard is driving a car that looks like her boyfriend’s Jaguar.
Leonard is on the phone, wearing a plaid shirt, not the expensive suit that we already saw him in, talking with the cop about Jimmy, who he believes to be John G., running a drug operation out of his girlfriend’s bar. The cop says he is in the lobby and Leonard says he’ll meet him there. At this point, Leonard does not have the scratches on his face that exist throughout all of the scenes we already saw. The lack of color now makes the events seem older, less vivid, just like a fading memory. The cop turns out to be Teddy calling himself Officer Gammell (the name on the DMV information we earlier saw Natalie provides (but which, of course, is later in the timeline), and who has made Leonard believe that Jimmy and John G. are one in the same. They go outside and Leonard takes Teddy’s photo. He tells Leonard to just write Teddy on the photo because he is undercover, and doesn’t want anyone to think he’s a cop. We know now that he didn’t want Leonard to realize he and the cop are one and the same person. He gives Leonard directions as to where John G is.
If you haven’t already guessed at this point in the film the destination is the deserted building from the beginning of the film. The truck that Teddy said was there for a while is really Leonard’s pickup. Jimmy shows up in his Jaguar and calls for Teddy, who set up the meeting. Jimmy recognizes Leonard, calling him the “memory” man. Leonard knocks him down and tells him to take off his clothes in case Leonard gets blood on his and then he can use Jimmy’s clothing. Jimmy says he has $200,000 dollars in his car and thought he had a deal with Teddy. Leonard has flashbacks of his wife as he confronts Jimmy. The two struggle and now we see how Leonard received the facial scratches. Leonard chokes Jimmy until it looks as if the man is dead. He takes a photo of Jimmy on the floor and puts on Jimmy’s clothes. He drags Jimmy into the basement. Jimmy utters the word “Sammy,” before he dies. Leonard is stunned, wondering how Jimmy would know about Sammy.
Teddy shows up, and Leonard pulls out his photos to see if he knows the man. Leonard is already forgetting what has happened and suspects Teddy is involved, showing up at that location. He lures Teddy in and then hits him in the head with his camera. Teddy says, “Lenny! That shit kills!” It is an appropriate response in this specific case since Leonard has written on his photo of Teddy that he should kill the man. Leonard sees credentials that show that Teddy is a cop. He reassures Leonard that he sent him there to get John G. Leonard then asks about the $200,000 (How can Leonard remember this fact? This is a flaw in the script to my mind). Teddy says that he made it look as if he was going to provide amphetamines to be bought by Jimmy. Teddy says he was helping Leonard find his man but wanted them to make some money, too. Teddy says Jimmy did some of his drug business out of the Discount Inn and Jimmy told Burt to let him know if anybody was “snooping around.” That is how Jimmy knew who Leonard was.
We now find out what is supposedly really going in this convoluted tale. Teddy says Jimmy knew about Sammy because Leonard tells everybody about Sammy, but he says the story gets better as Leonard repeats it, suggesting how Leonard (and all of us) embellish our recollections. Teddy then says, “So you lie to yourself to be happy … We all do it.” His remark is a comment on how everyone changes facts in time to accommodate the way we want to remember the past, adding some things and deleting others we would rather not deal with. Leonard seems at a loss as to what Teddy is saying. Teddy then declares that Leonard’s wife survived the attack. She didn’t believe that Leonard’s memory condition existed. She suffered terribly not only because of Leonard’s behavior but also because of her not believing he was really physically ill. We then have a shot of Leonard, not Sammy, preparing an insulin shot for his wife. Teddy says that Leonard kept telling himself it was Sammy’s wife who had diabetes until he believed that was the truth. When we earlier had an image of Leonard pinching his wife on the thigh, we now get one where he is giving her an insulin shot. Teddy says that the truth is that Sammy was really a faker, and Leonard exposed him. Teddy says that Sammy didn’t even have a wife, and it was Leonard’s wife who had diabetes. Did Leonard make up his wife’s death due to the assault to relieve his guilt for killing his own wife from an insulin overdose? Leonard refuses to believe this horrible possibility and says his wife was not a diabetic. Teddy asks him, “You sure?” Is Teddy telling the truth? We don’t know for sure, but he appears to be convincing. Teddy says he can only make Leonard remember what Leonard wants to be true.
Leonard says that Jimmy wasn’t the guy who assaulted his wife. But Teddy says Jimmy was good enough to fit the bill. Leonard says he’ll know when he gets the right guy. Teddy says he was the cop assigned to Leonard’s case and he believed Leonard’s story about a second attacker. He helped find the real John G. a while back and Leonard already killed him. Yet, Leonard did not get his satisfaction. Leonard’s life fits that definition of hell as being the repetition of the same unsavory actions. Teddy says the bad guys who invaded Leonard’s home were a couple of junkies who didn’t realize Leonard’s wife didn’t live alone. Teddy says he thought when Leonard killed the real John G. that it would shock Leonard into remembering, but it just didn’t “stick.” Teddy says the picture of Leonard smiling, pointing to the spot on his bare chest as the place to note he caught his man, was taken by Teddy when Leonard killed the man he was after. Teddy says he wanted to see Leonard that happy again. Teddy says he gave Leonard a reason to keep living by his repeating his success because his satisfaction would fade away along with Leonard’s memory. In a way, Teddy is also stuck in the same hell as Leonard as he repeats the pursuit of the now imaginary assailant who is no longer alive. He tells Leonard, “you don’t want the truth. You make up your own truth.” One may say the film speaks to us today, where some people deny facts that don’t satisfy their version of what they want to be true. Teddy says that Leonard took out the pages of the police report so he could create “a puzzle” he could never solve, because unsolved mysteries and conspiracies give some people a connection to something beyond the bland, simple facts. Teddy says his mom called him Teddy, but his name is John Edward Gammell, so he, too, can be just another one of the multiple men Leonard has been seeking. And we know from the beginning of the film, that is who Leonard turns Teddy into.
In his truck, Leonard takes the bullets out of the gun and leaves them on the seat, saying in the narrative that he is not a killer, he just wanted “to make things right,” He says to himself he can just forget what Teddy told him. He writes on Teddy’s photo not to believe his lies. He then burns the photo of Jimmy to convince himself that he hasn’t killed anyone yet and that John G. is still out there. He writes down Teddy’s license plate, and later Natalie verifies that Teddy is John G. Leonard takes Jimmy’s car so he can start his quest again.
As he drives, he says “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 I close my eyes, the world’s still here.” He closes his eyes, then opens them, in a sort of reboot process. He stops at the Tattoo parlor where he puts Teddy’s license number on his arm. The film’s final words are, “Now, where was I?” The circle of self-deception continues. The movie implies that we are not satisfied with answers, but are constantly in need of questioning to give us purpose. We say we seek the truth, but don’t seem to be content if the truth stagnates us and does not lead to more questioning, and we will welcome misdirection if it offers us a road on which to travel.
After a week off, the next film is Downhill Racer.
Sunday, October 20, 2019
SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.
E. T. - The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), although considered by many to be a children’s film, contains elements common in other Steven Spielberg movies: seemingly ordinary characters who excel under extraordinary situations; the suspicion toward government forces; the presentation of frightening and comic elements together; and the theme of reality versus fantasy. In addition, as Robert Ebert points out in his book, The Great Movies, this film is a triumph of cinematic perspective.
It begins with a shot of the stars, a place of wonder and amazement, and a spacecraft that descends to our planet, bringing those elevated elements down to earth. We see obscured night shots in the forest which add to the mystery of this visit, as alien fingers explore and experiment with the forest vegetation. The celestial visitors hear a sound and lights shine in their chests, possibly revealing an emotional response but which can also show how the beings connect with each other. E. T. is an agricultural worker and is curious and wanders off. He looks at a town’s lights from the height of a cliff, as if viewing its inhabitant from a more highly aware level. The shot is similar to ones in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. However, the camera following E. T. and the other aliens provides shots close to the ground to stress the perspective of the short E. T. since his race has the same view of life as do children, which cements the connection between the two groups.
Pickup trucks arrive to investigate the outer space arrival, and again the glaring lights of the vehicles and just the legs of the arriving men are shown from E. T.’s perspective. This view contributes a sense of danger because the men seem imposing in their height. We see that one man has keys attached to his belt, suggesting he is the one in charge, the man who keeps secrets locked away. E. T. is alarmed and tries to run away, his breathing labored, and he lets out screams. His fellow space travelers can’t wait for him to reach the spacecraft, so they take off as the men arrive. E. T. hides, his “heart light” glowing because of the loss of his connection to his companions.
Elliott (Henry Thomas) and his older brother Mike (Robert MacNaughton) along with his friends are at Elliott’s house in a suburban California neighborhood. One can see the influence here on the show Stranger Things, as almost the entire film centers on young children involved with beings from another world. They are playing a fantasy board game, not knowing at this point that fantasy will become reality for them. Elliott hears a noise outside as he picks up the pizza delivery and finds it is coming from a storage shed. As he approaches it, a ball rolls out to him. Even though this action seems harmless and somewhat playful, Elliott is startled and runs inside. Despite Elliott’s warning, the boys, given their age, innocently see the situation as a game as they head outside. They reproduce The Twilight Zone theme song to indulge their playful scary fun. They see footprints and Mike concludes it was a coyote.
Later, when everyone else is asleep, Elliott, still alert, and his dog hear noises again. He goes outside with a flashlight and enters some cornfields (why are so many eerie events in movies occur in these crops? Maybe because they are tall and can hide stuff). Again the camera films from Elliott’s height level, putting the audience in his shoes. The flashlight shines on E. T. and both he and Elliott frighten each other. E. T. runs off, and all we see are the swinging child’s gym set, overturned trash can, and swinging gate left in his wake, which adds a sense of the mysterious to the setting. Elliott looks upward, as if having an inclination that what he saw was otherworldly and he must alter his perspective to deal with this change in his life.
Elliot later goes into the woods and leaves Reese's Pieces (definitely not adult food) as a way to lure the creature he saw out into the open. He spies a man in the same area who looks like he is checking out the ground, looking for evidence. Elliott instinctively is wary of this unknown person as if realizing that human strangers can be scary, too. Elliott’s family, including Gertie (Drew Barrymore), his little sister, don’t believe him when he tells them what he saw. People often do not want to believe in anything so unusual, especially when a child is telling the story, as they attribute such stories to the lively imagination of the young.
The film introduces the effects of divorce on children as Elliott says that his dad would believe him, but can’t talk to him because he is in Mexico with the new woman in his life. Kids tend to shift their allegiance to the absent parent when the one who is present does not seem to be meeting the child’s needs. Mom, Mary (Dee Wallace), is in tears just thinking about the marital breakup. Elliott has insight into what scientists do when they discover something new. He says they’ll give this new specimen a “lobotomy” or something invasive, and Elliott is looking for someone to fill up the whole created by the absence of his father. Mike is then angry at Elliott for upsetting their mother, which adds to the family unhappiness.
Elliott sleeps outside, wanting to meet the creature he saw, but becomes afraid when E. T. shows up and approaches him. But, E. T. drops the candy Elliott left him on Elliott’s chair, as if saying he would like more. E. T. makes cute, almost purring sounds and waddles, which makes him likable. Elliott drops more candy and he follows the boy upstairs to his room. E. T. imitates Elliott’s hand gestures, as the two start to communicate in a playful way. E. T. seems to make a mental connection with Elliott as the alien gets sleepy when Elliott does.
The faceless men, including “Keys” (Peter Coyote), investigate the woods, and we view them again from a child’s vantage point, low to the ground, which makes the adults seem ominously towering. Keys finds E. T.’s footprints and a stash of Reese’s Pieces. Meanwhile, the next day, Elliott puts a thermometer near a light in his bedroom to fake a fever so he can stay home with E. T. Elliott introduces E. T. to his world through his playthings. Spielberg gives a humorous nod here to his pal, George Lucas, by noting toy figures from Star Wars movies, and also to his own film, Jaws, when Elliott says fish eat their food, and sharks eat other fish, “but nobody eats a shark.” Elliott is talking quickly, dispensing information pertaining to the objects in his room, as he appears eager to make a connection with someone else. E. T. puts things in his mouth, as if the creature is like Elliott’s baby sibling. Elliott wonders if E. T. is hungry, and he says he himself is, which again points to their developing closeness. Poor E. T. is frightened by Elliott’s barking dog, Harvey, which stresses how vulnerable the space visitor feels, just like we would, if stranded in an alien environment. When E. T. is startled by the quick opening of an umbrella he handles, Elliott, in the kitchen, likewise is alarmed, and drops the food he is gathering from the refrigerator, which again shows the quickly growing link between the two. Elliott finds his new friend shaking among his stuffed toy animals, the image making it look like E. T. is one of Elliott’s toys, only much more interactive. Elliott, like most children, is very accepting of someone who is different because he brings no prejudices and fears with him. The relationship between the two shows humans are at their best when they embrace those that are different from each other. Elliott humorously asks E. T. if he wants a Coke, just as if this alien was already one of his friends.
When Mike comes home, Elliott wants to include him in his discovery, but makes him swear to go by his rules. After Mike sees E. T., Gertie also comes in and the screaming starts as Mike knocks down a bookcase accidentally, and Gertie and E. T. become hysterical at each other’s appearance. Mike keeps his promise about obeying his brother's wishes, and ensures that Gertie is quiet as they and E. T. hide from their mother upon her return. The camera shots from Elliot’s closet put us in the same place as Mike and Gertie, as we feel like we are included within their circle, and are hiding with them. After Mary leaves, Elliott immediately tells Mike that he is “keeping him,” like E. T. is his adopted pal. Gertie’s youthful curiosity kicks in as she asks about E. T. Elliott wants her not to tell their mother, and makes up a reason, saying E. T. is invisible to adults and only little kids can see him. Gertie shifts from innocent, inquisitive child to grown-up cynicism, and the contrast is humorous when she says, “Give me a break,” an improvised line by the already savvy Barrymore.
Keys and his comrades continue to probe the surrounding area with telephoto lens cameras and electronic detection devices. The children gather food and objects for E. T., including a potted flowering plant, that will gain significance later. Elliott shows E. T. a globe of the earth and points out their location in California. When he asks E. T. where he’s from, E. T. seems to understand and points upward to the sky through the window. Elliott shows a picture of the solar system and points to the earth and then to the globe, saying the planet is “home,” the word resonating with the alien visitor later. The children are astonished as E. T. then makes some fruit levitate, as if attempting to create a three-dimensional picture of orbiting planets. The kids now see that E. T. has some amazing abilities, which make an impact on their lives which were only exciting through imagination before. E. T. looks at a book about the alphabet as he tries to learn to communicate. The plant which looked like it was dying now sprouts to life as E. T. looks at it, showing his regenerative powers, and pointing to his Christ-figure, regenerative character. (There are other possible Christian references, although Spielberg insists that they are only coincidental).
On the way to the school bus, the kids seem like genuine characters as they trade youthful insults, goading Elliott about his goblin coming back. When Elliott blurts out that he’s a spaceman, one boy asks does he come from “Uranus,” but then qualifies his joke by saying, “your anus.” Young Elliott is funny when he tells the boy in an adult way that the youth is “immature.” Their other verbal attacks appear genuine as they derive from the pop culture that makes up their world. As Mary is getting Gertie ready to go to school, she hears some shuffling upstairs in the house. Mary goes to Elliott’s room and into the closet. In a very funny shot, she looks at the wall of stuffed creatures, and E. T. is smart enough to hide in plain sight, his face motionless as his head appears again like one of Elliott’s many toys. The joke here is that E. T. is one of Elliott’s playmates who comes to life, which puts E. T. in the company of Pinocchio and the characters in Toy Story, among other transformative characters.
In his biology class, Elliott is drawing a picture of E. T. (writing “E. T.” on the paper, thus naming his new friend, which reminds us that Elliott’s name begins with an “E” and ends with a “T,” further stressing their connection). The class is assigned to dissect frogs. Meanwhile, E. T. walks around the house in a robe looking like a suburbanite, checking out the refrigerator. E. T. drinks beer, just like an earthling, as he assimilates human ways. As he becomes intoxicated, so does Elliott, who burps due to the intake of the alcoholic beverage, and slips off his chair as E. T. falls down. E. T. plays with an electronic toy (which he will use later along with the umbrella) and the TV remote. He is engrossed by the sci-fi movie being shown, as he probably thinks it’s real, given how he came to earth. The use of the film clip also points to how human imagination through art can turn fantasy into reality in the viewer’s mind. The frogs in the class are not already dead and must be put to sleep in jars with chloroform, which allows the ensuing action to take place. The frog caught in Elliott’s jar is accompanied by the film’s theme music which reminds us of E. T. caught here on earth. This shot is followed by a cut to E. T.’s fingers, whose skin looks frog-like, cementing the connection between the two creatures for us and with Elliott. E. T. looks at a newspaper cartoon about aliens and the drawing shows a request for “Help.” E. T. then watches the television which has people talking on phones as he notices the house phone. E. T. will use these observations to devise a plan for his rescue. E. T’s thoughts translate to Elliott as the words “Save him,” which Elliott utters, and he proceeds to liberate all of the frogs in a variation on E. T’s plight. Ordinary Elliott is elevated to hero status, bringing freedom to the amphibians. E. T. watches a romantic scene in a movie where a man kisses a woman, and just like the man in the movie Elliott triumphantly kisses a girl from the class, showing E. T.’s emotional effect on him, and how cinema has an impact on an audience.
E. T. is assembling his tools when the mother comes home along with Gertie. Still a bit drunk, E. T. wanders around the house, but the adult Mary from her height doesn’t notice him, even knocking him over as she opens the refrigerator door, (and turning Elliott’s invented story about adults not being capable of seeing E. T. into a reality). Gertie tries to have her mother meet E. T., but she is not paying attention to her daughter as she is caught up in her activities. E. T. here represents the children that adults overlook as they are immersed in their more mature lives. Mary sees an empty beer can on the kitchen floor while at the same time she gets a call from school saying Elliott was intoxicated. As she goes to pick her son up, Gertie hears E. T. repeating letters that she is saying as she watches a children’s educational show on the television. He begins to repeat her words, including “phone.” She asks if he wants to call someone. Indeed he does.
When Elliott comes home he hears Gertie talking to E. T. upstairs. In a funny scene, Elliott sees she dressed E. T. up in girl’s clothes with a silly wig, as in her own way she joins Elliott in wanting to have fun and play with their new friend. E. T. is talking now. He calls Elliott by his name and looks at the sky, saying “home.” Then comes the famous line, “E. T phone home,” which he repeats. Mike arrives and is stunned that the alien is talking. Elliott realizes that if his new friend communicates with his people, “they will come.” E. T. says he wants to “come home,” which is what we all want, no matter who we are, because it makes us feel secure and happy.
There is an ominous black (the movie color representing potential danger) van monitoring the conversations in the neighborhood. The anonymous government people listen to Elliott and Mike talking about how they are looking for equipment for E. T. Mike notes that the alien is looking less healthy, and Elliott doesn’t want to hear that negativity, saying “we” are doing fine. Mike questions the plural pronoun, but the audience has seen how the two are linked together. As they go through garage items, Elliott becomes nostalgic about how they did things with their father, another indication about the feelings of loss among children of divorced parents.
Mary reads Peter Pan to Gertie as E. T. listens in hiding, again implying how for children the world of imagination feels real. Gertie claps her hands to show she believes in fairies and to demonstrate her childlike belief in magic. To drive home this point, Elliott hurts his finger bringing items from the garage. He says “ouch,” and E. T. lights up his own finger which heals the cut, which stresses E. T.’s redemptive power. But as he levitates his assembled objects to make his “phone,” the plant that was flowering now appears limp as it reflects E. T.’s failing health.
The children devise a plan to get E. T. out of the house on Halloween, an appropriate holiday for a story about an alien visitor. They cover E. T. in a ghost costume so as to pass him off as Gertie. The perspective again is upward as we see things from E. T.’s viewpoint so we can better empathize with his character. Mike has on makeup that looks like he has a knife through his head. E. T. takes fantasy for reality when he wants to heal the wound, repeating Elliott’s word, “ouch.” It’s a funny moment, but it emphasizes Spielberg’s interest that he explores in many of his films concerning the contrast between the real and fantastic realms.
We continue to see the camera peer through the eye holes cut out in the ghost sheet, looking up at what for E. T. are strange sights but as we know are pretend visions as a result of costumes. The audience members watch the invented image of E. T. and suspend their disbelief and submit to the illusion created by movies. One humorous shot connected to this theme occurs when a child in a Yoda outfit passes by and E. T. calls out “home, home,” as if he has recognized a fellow visitor from outer space. Elliott rides his bike to take E. T. to a site in the woods to send the signal. As they approach the edge of a cliff, E. T. uses his powers to make the bike fly. It is an exhilarating moment as John Williams’s score rises with the movement of the bike. We empathize as we are thrilled because what kid or adult doesn’t dream of flying? It seems silly that Elliott keeps pedaling since he is no longer on the ground, but it stresses how part of him is anchored to the earth since what is actually happening is something that was confined to dreams and imagination. The now iconic shot of the bike against the glowing moon shows how people can break the tether that restricts them to the mundane and soar above what confines them. In contrast, we see Elliott’s mother, dressed up in a costume, being a kid herself for the night, then looking at the clock as if, like Cinderella, her coach has turned back into a pumpkin. She snuffs out a candle, symbolically extinguishing her youthful playfulness for the evening.
E. T. deploys his makeshift transmitter, while Mary goes looking for the tardy Elliott. After she drives away, the mysterious government men get out of a car parked in front of the house and invade the sanctity of their private home. E. T. keeps saying “home,” and says, “ouch” as he points to himself to indicate that he is getting sick and doesn’t have much time. Elliott wants his new friend to stay so they could grow up together as buddies. Elliot falls asleep in the woods and realizes E. T. is missing when he wakes up. Elliott returns home but doesn’t look well. He asks Mike to find E. T. in the woods. His brother rides on his bike as the secret investigators try to follow him. Mike finds E. T. looking very pale in a shallow stream. Mike brings E. T. back home and they finally reveal their secret to their mother. Elliott says “we’re sick. I think we’re dying.” His empathic link to another suffering creature is a model for humans who all too often think only of themselves. Mary, not understanding the situation, instinctively wants to remove her children from E. T.’s presence to protect them. As she opens her door to leave the house a man in a spacesuit slowly enters the residence, exhibiting ominous breathing sounds similar to those of Darth Vader. He walks through a beaded curtain covering a doorway, looking like a ghost. Another suited person comes through a window. Who is scarier, the earth spacemen or the real alien, E. T.?
Now the government men show up in force. They cocoon Elliot’s house in plastic covering and set up a quarantined environment. But, as we know, living creatures break out of their cocoons. The family is questioned by doctors as their world is invaded not by aliens but by earthlings. Elliott says they are scaring E. T., and as Mike informs the government people, Elliott knows because he shares E. T.’s feelings. Elliott keeps saying he is the one to take care of E. T. since he chose Elliott. We now see Keys’ face and he turns out to be a sympathetic character who has retained his childlike wonder of the fantastic. He tells Elliot that E. T. came to him, too, in a way, probably because he has wanted to contact an extra-terrestrial since he was ten years old. He assures Elliott that he doesn’t want E. T. to die. Elliot says that to save E. T. the alien must go home and that is why he tried to contact his people. Keys says it is a “miracle” that E. T. is here. His words carry a religious implication. E. T. performs miracles in the sense that he defies gravity and has healing powers. As Keys talks, Elliott is reflected in his visor, emphasizing the connection between Elliott and Keys. Keys says to Elliot that he was “glad he met you first,” which shows that Keys realizes that an innocent, imaginative, uncorrupted child was the best first contact that can be made by someone foreign.
Elliott tells E. T. as they lie next to each other in hospital beds that he wants them to stay together, and that “I’ll be right here” for E. T. As E. T.’s vital signs fail, the link between the two disconnects and Elliott’s health returns. There is a shot of the older Mike huddling with the stuffed toys as he, too, finds strength in a childlike setting. When Mike wakes up in the morning the plant dramatically wilts and dies, echoing E. T.’s demise. Elliott cries in his mother’s arms and the doctors call the time of E. T.’s death. A tearful Gertie tells her mom that she wishes E. T. would come back, the way fairies can return in Peter Pan, by believing in them. She sounds as if she feels that magic can transcend the laws of our material world. To show how this belief can extend to the adult world, her mother says, “I wish, too.”
Keys lets Elliot spend some time alone with E. T. before they take him away. Elliott is unhappy because he knows that they will just dissect him, like the frogs. Elliott says he can’t feel anything anymore, as if this loss has emptied all his emotions except sadness. He says he loves E. T. which is the greatest gift one can give to another, no matter where they are from. Elliott closes the container that houses E. T., and the top seals like a coffin. But as Elliott walks out, he passes the flowerpot which begins to bloom again. Elliott goes to the container and E. T. has revived and is yapping about phoning home. His heart light is glowing, which makes Elliott realize that they were successful in getting in touch with E. T.’s comrades, and that restored connection helped bring him back to life. One can argue that E. T.’s resurrection emulates Jesus rising from the dead. Elliott muffles E. T.’s excited words and closes the container, crying over it to prevent others from hearing him.
Elliott and Mike hatch a plan to get E. T. to the site in the forest so he can be rescued. They hijack the van containing E. T. and with the help of Mike’s friends they try to stay ahead of the authorities. When E. T. is ready to exit the van, he appears elevated physically and symbolically in front of the youths, his heart glowing as he wears a white robe. This image could be interpreted as a god appearing before his disciples. Elliott tells them E. T. is from outer space and they have to take him to his spaceship. One of the boys taps into his Star Trek knowledge and asks why they just can’t “beam” him up. In one of the funniest lines in the film, Elliott dismisses the notion as ridiculous, saying, “This is reality, Greg.” Despite the unreal events that are occurring, Elliott’s line is comically incongruous, as if some things are just too outlandish.
The boys racing on their bikes form an escort for E. T. as they are able to get around hills and other areas better than the cop cars for a while. But as they are about to get caught, E. T. makes the boys fly, again using his extraordinary powers to alter accepted reality. (In the updated edition of the movie, Spielberg felt it was inappropriate to have guns in the hands of the authorities so close to children so he removed them and substituted walkie-talkies as the boys rise into the sky). They arrive at the transmission site as the alien spaceship lands. Gertie knows where they are going and she joins the others with her mother to say goodbye to E. T. She gives him the flowering plant as a parting gift. E. T., acting like a parent, tells her to be good, because they have become so close. Keys, who is really a kid in adult disguise, also joins them. E. T. tells Elliott “come,” wanting him to board the spaceship with him. But, Elliott says, “Stay,” wanting E. T. to remain on earth. They realize that they must part in order to be with their respective families. The word “ouch” is repeated but it as an emotional wound because E. T. must leave. E. T. then repeats Elliott’s words as he lights up his finger, points to Elliott’s head, and says, “I’ll be right here,” knowing that he will remain in Elliott’s memories. He boards the spaceship, and the door closes like a circular camera dissolve, as Spielberg reminds us of the magical abilities of the movies.
There is a rainbow left behind as the spaceship flies off. It is a biblical symbol of the establishment of a covenant between God and his creations. E. T. may as well have been pointing to all our heads with his brilliant finger, imitating God touching Adam’s hand in the Sistine Chapel, since he will remain with us and generations to come.
The next film is Memento.