Guy Pearce as Leonard Shelby, vengeful insurance investigator with anterograde amnesia
Los Angeles, Summer 1999
Release Date: September 5, 2000
Director: Christopher Nolan
Costume Designer: Cindy Evans
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
I have no short-term memory. I know who I am, I know all about myself, I just—since my injury, I can’t make new memories. Everything fades. If we talk for too long, I’ll forget how we started. The next time I see you, I’m not gonna remember this conversation.
Memento stars Guy Pearce as Leonard Shelby, a former insurance claims investigator out for revenge after an attack on his wife that left him with a rare form of short-term memory loss. Appropriate for today (July 17th) being National Tattoo Day, Leonard covers his body with tattoos to help him instantly recall his understanding of the facts of what happened and who he must target for revenge.
A tattoo on Leonard’s hand asks him to “remember Sammy Jankis”, recalling one of his former cases when he rejected the insurance claim of fellow amnesiac Sammy (Stephen Tobolowsky), having believed that Sammy’s condition was more psychological. The job trained Leonard well for his new reality as “I had to see through people’s bullshit, it was useful experience because now it’s my life,” though he concludes that his own condition could be “some poetic justice for not believing Sammy.”
We don’t know how many times Leonard has been through this cycle of anonymous motels and shifty accomplices before, but he’s currently staying at the Discount Inn, entangled in a complicated web that includes ex-cop John “Teddy” Gammell (Joe Pantoliano) and the mysterious bartender Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss).
In only his second feature film, Christopher Nolan adapted his brother Jonathan Nolan’s short story “Memento Mori” into a unique non-linear psychological thriller, presented in two alternating sequences: a black-and-white sequence that advances chronologically and a color sequence shown in reverse order, each only several minutes long to depict the duration of Leonard’s memory.
What’d He Wear?
For most of the movie, Leonard wears a tan suit with a vivid blue shirt, made from a cornflower-blue herringbone-woven cotton. The shirt has a point collar, front placket with seven white plastic buttons, breast pocket, rounded button cuffs, and a box pleat down the center back.
There’s a darkly funny moment at the expense of Leonard’s memory when he is getting dressed after sleeping at Natalie’s home. Unable to remember which clothes are his, he instinctively tries putting on Natalie’s white shirt, which is a bit too small for him. “Lenny… before you go, could I have my shirt back please?” she asks, tossing him the blue shirt he had been wearing earlier. The dramatic irony is that she likely recognized the shirt as having belonged to her scumbag boyfriend Jimmy—and that Leonard has no recollection of putting the shirt on after he killed Jimmy.
The bold blue shirt with a tan suit echoes an aesthetic worn the previous year by Pierce Brosnan in his penultimate James Bond movie, The World is Not Enough (1999). It’s likely this degree of fashionability that prompts the schlubby Teddy to describe Leonard as wearing a “designer suit”, though Teddy also knows that he pulled it off of the late Jimmy Grantz (Larry Holden), a drug dealer affluent enough to also be driving a late-model Jaguar convertible.
A Heritage Auctions listing describes the twill suiting as “tan wool”, though I suspect there may also be some cotton based on how the cloth wears and wrinkles. (That said, the listing also describes the jacket’s obvious notch lapels as “peaked lapels”, so there’s little to be gained by relying solely on auction listing descriptions.)
Lenny’s commandeered single-breasted suit jacket has notch lapels that roll to a three-button front. The cut and details are consistent with trends of the ’90s, including the padded shoulders and larger fit—which makes sense here as the suit had initially belonged to Jimmy rather than Leonard. The larger fit also allows him to comfortably carry his camera on a shoulder strap under his jacket.
The jacket has a single vent and four buttons on each cuff that match the mixed brown horn buttons on the front. In describing his system, Leonard mentions that “you need a jacket that’s got, like, six pockets in it—particular pockets for particular things,” which may have instinctively drawn him to wearing it. Consistent with the suit’s sporty nature, the jacket has patch pockets over the left breast and both hips.
The suit’s matching flat-front trousers have gently slanted side pockets, button-through back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms. Leonard holds them up with Jimmy’s belt, a strip of scaled brown kipskin leather that closes through a gold-toned single-prong buckle.
Evidently, Leonard either didn’t try on or failed to fit into Jimmy’s brown chukka boots, which would have been more congruous with the suit than Leonard’s own chunkier brown plain-toe work derbies that he continues wearing with his dark brown socks. (To his credit, Teddy recognizes the value of Jimmy’s chukkas.) Leonard’s work shoes have heavy-duty black lugged rubber outsoles.
As seen frequently throughout, particularly in scenes involving the tattoos on Leonard’s legs, he wears white tonal-striped cotton boxer shorts as underwear.
Leonard uses “habit and routine” to make his life possible, aided by a black Polaroid 690 instant camera that he wears strapped around his left shoulder, under his jacket. The camera’s ability to print and develop photos within seconds allows him to write a coordinated note on each so that he will have some guidance navigating the people, places, and pieces of his life.
Given how much his marriage drives his actions, Leonard understandably continues wearing his silver-toned wedding ring, a plain band on the ring finger of his left hand.
Throughout the black-and-white sequence (which becomes pigmented as it aligns with the color sequence), Leonard wears a gray, red, and white plaid shirt under a dark utility vest. This zip-up vest has a knitted collar, two low-positioned inverted box-pleat pockets with velcro-closing flaps, and cinched adjusters on each side of the waist.
His distressed and dirty light blue denim jeans are held up by a thick brown leather belt with a gunmetal double-prong buckle. He wears the same brown leather work shoes, which harmonize better with this more rugged casual outfit.
Leonard drives a dark green 1997 Jaguar XK8 convertible that gets considerably dirtier and more damaged over the course of the narrative. His Polaroid describes the XK8 as “my car”, though Natalie’s reactions to it hint at its true owner’s identity.
The XK8 debuted for the 1997 model year, establishing Jaguar’s new luxurious XK grand tourer series to replace the aging XJS series. Available in two-door coupe and convertible body styles, the sleek XK8 was initially powered by Jaguar’s new 4.0-liter V8, exclusively mated to a five-speed automatic transmission.
The standard 4.0 V8 could propel the XK8 convertible from 0-60 mph in 7 seconds, reaching an estimated top speed of 154 mph (the hardtop coupe is slightly faster, reaching 0-60 in 6.7 seconds and a top speed of 156 mph.) Introduced in 1998, the XKR used a supercharged version of the same 4.0 V8 that generated eighty more horsepower and reduced the 0-60 mph acceleration by more than a second.
1997 Jaguar XK8
Body Style: 2-door convertible
Layout: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive (RWD)
Engine: 243.9 cu. in. (4.0 L) Jaguar AJ26 V8
Power: 290 hp (216 kW; 294 PS) @ 6100 RPM
Torque: 290 lb·ft (393 N·m) @ 4250 RPM
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 101.9 inches (2588 mm)
Length: 187.4 inches (4760 mm)
Width: 72 inches (1829 mm)
Height: 51.4 inches (1306 mm)
Jaguar overhauled the XK series for the 2003 model year, enlarging the engine in both the XK8 and XKR models to a 4.2-liter V8, now mated to the new ZF six-speed automatic transmission.
What to Imbibe
“Hmm… I don’t feel drunk,” Leonard realizes as he awakens on a toilet holding a bottle of what appears to be J&B Rare blended Scotch whisky but has a very similar prop label imprinted with “L&D” on it instead. It turns out he had earlier grabbed it to be an improvised weapon while awaiting Dodd (Callum Keith Rennie) in his motel room.
That Scotch would’ve probably been much safer—or at least more pleasant—to drink than the, uh, dusty beer that Natalie initially serves him when he goes to meet her at Ferdy’s bar.
Through much of Memento, Leonard arms himself with the Smith & Wesson 3913 pistol that he found in Dodd’s motel room. “Must be his… I don’t think they’d let someone like me carry a gun,” Leonard quips to himself.
Smith & Wesson introduced the 3913 model in 1990 among its stable of third-generation semi-automatic pistols. These hefty metal-framed handguns can trace their lineage to the first generation of Smith & Wesson pistols, the Model 39 (introduced in 1955, fed from a single-stack magazine) and the Model 59 (introduced in 1971, fed from a double-stack magazine). Denoted by three-digit model numbers, the second-generation series through the 1980s expanded the lineup to include a range of finishes, calibers, and sizes.
The third and final generation was produced through the ’90s, with an even wider range as indicated by the four-digit model numbers that each describe the pistol in hand—the 3913 indicates that it evolved from the 9mm Model 39, the “1” describes the double-action-only (DAO) trigger and scaled-down size, and the final “3”describes the stainless alloy construction and finish. (For contrast, a 5906 evolved from the Model 59, the “0” is a traditional double/single-action but full-sized, and the “6” indicates a stainless steel frame. A 4505 is a .45-caliber pistol, also with a double/single-action, full-sized frame as indicated by the “0”, but the last digit being a “5” means a blackened steel finish.)
Produced throughout the 1990s, the Smith & Wesson 3913 weighs just under two pounds with a 3.5-inch barrel. Like the earlier Model 39, Model 439, and Model 639 that it evolved from, the Model 3913 is fed from eight-round single-stack magazines.
In his “past life” as a non-amnesiac insurance investigator, Leonard actually did own a gun as he loads a Beretta 8000F Cougar Inox upon recognizing that there’s an intruder in the house attacking his wife. The Beretta 8000 series was introduced in 1994 as a compact alternative to the full-size Beretta 92 series. The “Cougar” nickname emerged from the Italian firearms manufacturer’s long-time pattern of naming their pistols after big cats, e.g., Bobcat, Cheetah, Jaguar, Minx, and Tomcat.
Like the contemporary Smith & Wesson third-generation semi-autos discussed above, the Cougar was available in a variety of different configurations that varied by caliber, capacity, size, and action. Leonard’s pistol is clearly an “F”-configured traditional double-action (DA/SA) model, complete with external hammer and ambidextrous de-cocker. Though the caliber is unconfirmed, most movie handguns are chambered for universal 9×19 mm Parabellum, which is also one of the most reliable when cycling blanks. The stainless steel finish and white grips indicate that Leonard owns a version with Beretta’s signature “Inox” finish.
At the “end” of the movie, Leonard briefly handles Teddy’s presumably police-issued Smith & Wesson Model 19, extracting the six .357 Magnum shells from the cylinder and leaving them in his truck, then tossing the piece itself into the cash that Jimmy G. brought to what he believed would be a drug exchange.
Smith & Wesson developed the Model 19 in 1957 as a .357 Magnum revolver built on its medium-sized K-frame. Produced in blued carbon and nickel-plated steel finishes, the reliable Model 19 grew popular among civilians and law enforcement alike. Standard barrel lengths ranged from a long 6-inch to the 2.5-inch “snub-nosed” variant as carried by Teddy in Memento, apropos his concealment needs as a plainclothes (or possibly undercover) officer.
How to Get the Look
Leonard Shelby may not have short-term memory, but he’s got plenty of style—thanks to the late Jimmy Grantz—navigating a world of cheap motels and duplicitous acquaintances in a “borrowed” tan sport suit and cornflower-blue shirt that cover his multitude of tattoos.
- Tan wool/cotton-blend twill suit:
- Single-breasted 3-button jacket with notch lapels, patch breast pocket, patch hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, and single vent
- Flat-front trousers with belt loops, gently slanted side pockets, button-through back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Cornflower-blue herringbone cotton shirt with point collar, front placket, breast pocket, rounded button cuffs, and box-pleated back
- Brown scaled kipskin leather belt with brass single-prong buckle
- Dark-brown leather plain-toe derby work shoes
- Dark brown socks
- White self-striped cotton boxer undershorts
- Silver wedding ring
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
I have this condition…