"The room, stripped of its color and filmed in black and white, is a nondescript space where Christopher Nolan provides the audience with backstory."
In the two films that Christopher Nolan has filmed in California, the entirety of Memento (2000) and parts of Inception (2010), Los Angeles plays itself. The protagonists of both films, Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) and Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), respectively, deal with the loss of their wife and access their fragmented past through constructed memories.
Inception makes use of all that Los Angeles offers, from its Downtown streets to the Malibu beach. Memento, however, is set amongst the outskirts of the city, namely in Carson, Glendale, Burbank, North Hills, Tujunga and Altadena. The majority of the action takes place indoors, in motel rooms, where Leonard pieces together puzzle pieces about who could have potentially raped and murdered his wife. Leonard, a former insurance investigator turned detective, suffers from anterograde amnesia; as a result of his condition, he is incapable of creating new memories. Leonard keeps facts in order via notes, pictures and tattoos.
The narrative of Memento is comprised of two sequences, one in black and white and the other in color. The black and white sequence runs in forward order, whereas the color sequence runs in reverse order. The majority of the black and white sequences are set within Leonard’s motel room. The hotel clerk has taken advantage of Leonard’s condition and has charged him for two rooms at the motel. The Discount Inn, where these scenes were filmed, is the Travel Inn, located on 7254 Foothill Boulevard in Tujunga, California. The first room Leonard stays in, which we see in the black and white scenes is Room 21. In our floor plan, we diagrammed this room. The first time we are introduced to this room, Leonard describes the room as an “anonymous motel room.” The room, stripped of its color and filmed in black and white, is a nondescript space where Christopher Nolan provides the audience with backstory. In these scenes, Leonard speaks on the phone and recounts the story of Sammy Jankis.
These scenes offer an objective view of Leonard. In the color sequence of the film, we spend much of our time experiencing the world from Leonard’s perspective. The camera follows Leonard around and we piece together details and information about his wife’s murder as he receives them. In seeing the world from his eyes, Christopher Nolan presents us with a very subjective point of view of Leonard. In the black and white sequence, we observe Leonard from a distance. The camera films Leonard from a third person perspective; as an audience, we never even hear the person on the other end of the phone.
The rooms that Leonard spends his time in are both very similar, but there are minor differences among the two. The second room that he checks into, Room 304, has one bed whereas Room 21 has two beds. The light fixtures on the wall and the headboards of the beds are both slightly different from each other as well. There is a scene where Leonard visits Room 21 after the hotel clerk makes a mistake while showing him his room. This is the only time this room exists in color. In the room, we see all the belongings Leonard has left behind from the earlier part of the story, such as his shaving cream and a note to himself that reminds him to shave his left thigh.
Memento is essentially broken up into two parts. The first part of the story takes place within Room 21. Leonard receives a call from Teddy, who asks that Leonard meet him in the motel lobby. This becomes the first instance (apart from the flashbacks) where black and white photography is used for scenes outside of this room. Leonard drives to the abandoned building, kills Jimmy, and as his Polaroid photograph of his dead body develops, color bleeds into the scene, effectively merging both sequences. In terms of the narrative, the scenes that follow are the sequences that are shown in color.