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NOTE: This spoiler was written and sent in by - Jmhirsh

Where do I begin? This movie is very complicated to summarize.

Guy Pearce is Leonard Shelby, a man who seeks revenge for the rape and murder of his wife.  One complication with this plan—Leonard suffered a head injury from a scuffle with his wife’s killers and has lost the ability to make new memories.  His last memory is lying on the floor next to his wife, whose face is covered by a plastic bag. As he says, “If I talk to you for too long, I probably won’t remember who you are or even why I started talking to you in the first place.”  To compensate, Leonard is constantly taking Polaroid pictures of people he meets and places he goes and writing messages on the pictures.  Important facts, such as information about the crime, he has tattooed all over his body.  He is wearing a fancy suit, has a large sum of cash and is driving a Jaguar.

The best aspect of this movie is how it is edited.  The plot is recreated as Leonard sees it—backwards with questionable gaps. This summary goes from the end of the movie (beginning of plot) to the beginning of the movie (end of the plot). Confused? Just wait...

Leonard Shelby arrives in a small town in a pickup truck wearing an oversized flannel shirt.  He stops at a local bar, where he meets Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss).  Natalie introduces herself and minutes later, Leonard cannot remember who she is. He then proceeds to tell a story that is repeated throughout the movie. Every time Leonard meets someone, he explains his illness and how he may not remember him or her the next time he sees him or her.  He tells the story of Sam Jankis.  Prior to his wife’s death, Leonard was an insurance claims investigator.  Sam Jankis was a man who was trying to file a claim that an accident had caused to lose his ability to make new memories.  Sam could only remember things for a period of a few minutes, yet he was able to perform complicated tasks, such as injecting his wife’s insulin, which he learned prior to his accident.  Leonard begins visiting their home, and each time, although Sam does not claim to remember him, he (Leonard) senses a look of recognition in his eyes.  Leonard has Sam’s conditional learning tested—each time Sam goes to pick up a certain group of objects off of a table, he will receive an electrical shock.  Leonard felt that even without a short-term memory survival instincts should have stopped Sam from picking up the objects.  After hundreds of tests, he still picks up the electrified objects. Leonard denies the claim. Sam’s wife is incredibly distraught—she thinks he is faking, and begins testing him by hiding food hoping that he will search when he gets hungry, yet he doesn’t. She decides to test his theory—she tells Sam that she needs her insulin shot, which he is capable of giving.  Within two minutes, she tells him that she needs her shot again, and he, not remembering that she has already had one, administers another shot.  She repeats this one more time—overwhelmedby the guilt of believing that he would be faking his illness. She goes into acoma from having too much insulin and Sam is put into an institution.  Leonard now realizes that Sam was able to“act normal”—he was able to fake a look of recognition—he knew that his condition was not normal and “acted” like he knew him when he really didn’t.

Natalie asks Leonard what the last memory he has is, and he proceeds to recount the events of his wife’s murder.  The last thing he remembers his being knocked to the floor after shooting one of the robbers and looking into his wife’s eyes.  Leonard needs a place to stay, and decides to stay at a local rat motel.  While staying at the hotel, his phone repeatedly rings, but as one of his tattoos says, “NEVER answer the phone.”  An envelope is slipped under his door with a Polaroid picture of Leonard, shirtless, covered in mud, with a bloody hand over his shoulder.  Leonard picks up the next call, and is greeted by someone who claims to be a cop—and who has a lead on John G. (who Leonard believes is his wife’s killer). He meets the cop in the lobby and takes a picture of him.  The cop says he is undercover, so he suggests Leonard should just write “Teddy” on the picture.  He drives Leonard out to an abandoned warehouse and tells him that John G, will soon be arriving.  The man who shows up is named John G., but he is a drug dealer who is being set up by Teddy, a crooked cop.  Leonard kills John G. and takes his fancysuit and Jaguar, dumping his body in a basement.  Leonard tells Teddy it didn’t feel right—he thought he would feel differently once he caught the killer. Teddy gets so frustrated that he tells Leonard he already killed John G.—months ago!  Apparently, Teddy tracked down the original John G. and set it up for Leonard to get his revenge—he even took a picture to remember the event by.  Teddy thought the memory would stick—but Leonard cannot recall any of it.  He is now mad at Teddy for setting him up to kill an honest man.  Teddy begins to throw questions at him—is he sure his wife died? Maybe the Sam Jankis in the story is actually Leonard-and he killed his own wife? Does he even know who he is anymore?  Teddy tells him that as long as he wants revenge, there will always be another John G. in the next town—Teddy’s real name is John Garanspoll (John G).

Leonard writes on Teddy’s picture-“Do not believe his lies.”He burns pictures he has taken of the crime scene.  He finds a coaster from Natalie’s bar in his pocket that says,“Meet me after.” Without knowing it was originally meant for her boyfriend, the drug guy, Leonard meets Natalie at the bar. Natalie asks him to tell her more about his revenge plot.  A few days later, Leonard stays the night at her place.  Natalie reveals to Leonard that she is helping him because she too has lost someone. Her boyfriend went tomeet a guy named Teddy and never came back. Leonard doesn’t make a connection. 

Teddy tracks Leonard down to Natalie’s house and warns him to stay away from her—he says she is using him.  Leonard looks at Teddy’s picture and refuses to believe him(remember the note?).  Leonard goes back to Natalie’s house to stay.  She is angry—she has just found out her boyfriend is dead. She calls Leonard a retard, swears, calls his wife a whore, and says she is going to use him however she pleases.  She says some terrible things about his wife and he becomes so angry he hits her.  She grabs every pen she can find and sits outside in her car.  Meanwhile, Leonard is frantically searching for a pen to write down what just happened. He can’t find one, so he sits down on the couch-forgetting everything that just happened.  Natalie runs back in-bruised and crying.  She tells Leonard that a drug guy named Dodd beat her up.  Leonard offers to get rid of him.

Leonard kidnaps Dodd and beats him up.  An hour later, he cannot remember why Dodd is there, so he calls Teddy for help.  Teddy suggests that they drop Dodd off at the border with bus money.  Teddy warns him to stay away from Natalie once again—but he is forever marked as a liar. Leonard meets Natalie at a diner, where she is waiting with a photo copy of a driver’s license accessed from a plate number Leonard has tattooed on his arm.  The license has a picture of Teddy with his full name—John Garanspoll (John G.). Leonard thinks he has found the killer (again).  He lures Teddy into driving him out to the warehouse

Outside the warehouse is the blue truck Leonard had at the beginning of the movie. He doesn't recognize it. Leonard brings Teddy into the warehouse under the guise that he thinks John G. is there. He tells Teddy that he thinks he is John G. and he has to kill him for his revenge. Teddy pleads with him and tells him he doesn't know what he is doing. Leonard says that killing his wife's murderer is the one thing he can live for. Teddy tells him he doesn't know who he is anymore and that he needs to look in the basement to see what kind of person he has become (where the John G drug dealer's body is). Leonard shoots Teddy in the head, takes a picture, and takes off in the Jaguar.

NOTE: The movie leaves a lot to the viewer to decide--are Leonard and Sammy the same person? Did Leonard's wife really die? My interpretation was that she did die and that everything Teddy told Leonard about his wife- (she died, they tracked down the killer, Teddy took a picture) is true.


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Guy Pearce as Leonard
Guy Pearce and
Carrie-Anne Moss (Natalie)
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