Due to a head injury, Leonard Shelby has a serious memory problem. He cant make new memories, and only has the ones from right up until the accident. This is making it difficult for him to track down the man who killed his wife, and hit him in the head. And thus begins the movie MEMENTO, a stylish crime drama starring Australian actor Guy Pearce.
Told in ten minute segments that move backwards in time, we follow Leonard back through a series of events, learning in each segment what happened previously, things Leonard has already forgotten. To help him with his search, he has evolved a system. He takes Polaroid pictures, putting names to faces, marking which car is his, which hotel room is his. And to keep certain notes from being lost or changed, he has an elaborate series of tattoos slowly growing all over his body.
The largest of these tattoos is written right across Leonards chest, written in backwards script so that when he stands in front of a mirror, the main fact is there for him to see: John G. Raped and Murdered My Wife. Below this is another tattoo that reads find him and kill him. Scattered across his torso and arms are a collection of facts he has gathered about the case, the points that Leonard things are most important.
In one scene in the movie, we see Leonard tattooing himself. With arm space being taken up, he has moved to his own thigh, using a sewing needle stuck into a ball-point pen for a tattoo tool, and the pens ink for tattoo ink. His homemade rig is shown very well in the still gallery that is part of the DVDs special features section. Whereas this might be a way of marking the skin, it would not produce as solid and nice a result as Leonard is shown to achieve, and would carry an extremely high chance of infection.
In another scene, Leonard suddenly pulls over his car, determined to get one fact noted on his body before it is forgotten. This time he chooses to visit Emma the Tattooist, played by actress Marianne Muellerleile. She adds fact number six to his leg: the license plate number of the man that Leonard is trying to find. This scene of movie tattooing is very realistic, showing the black type she is tattooing with some residual redness to the surrounding skin. The only thing that is out of place is the fact that she is tattooing a very precise and specific typeface on his leg freehand, without any visible stencil.
In a way, the permanence of tattooing is what helps trap Leonard in this endless search for his wifes killer. No matter what happens, he wakes up every day, faces these facts and goes off on his search. Lacking the ability to make new memories, Leonard is shocked with the fact of his wifes death each morning when he looks in the mirror.