Out of Joint: Memento as Contemporary Hamlet

  • Eric S. Mallin
Part of the Reproducing Shakespeare book series (RESH)


Memento (dir. Christopher Nolan, 2000) embodies and reinterprets Hamlet through its psychically wounded hero, whose short-term amnesia commits him to a pointless search for vengeance that makes him vulnerable and exposes him to moral hazard. Both this and Coppola’s film show their Hamlet figures in a tragic and darkening landscape; these films neutralize and refuse to glorify the revenge impulse—arguably, as Shakespeare does as well. Nolan in particular casts the entire revenge project into doubt through the device of temporal, narrative dislocation (the story is told, for the most part, backward). The film displays a remarkable structural doubling with Shakespeare’s play, embedding a metacommentary on its tale as Hamlet does with The Murder of Gonzago.

Works Cited

  1. Barnaby, Andrew. “Tardy Sons: Hamlet, Freud, and Filial Ambivalence.” Comparative Literature 65.2 (Spring 2013): 220–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bellour, Raymond and Constance Penley, The Analysis of Film. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2000.Google Scholar
  3. Bordwell, David. The Way Hollywood Tells It: Story and Style in Modern Movies. Berkeley: U of California P, 2006.Google Scholar
  4. Bradley, A.C. Shakespearean Tragedy. 1904; rpt. London: Penguin Books, 1991.Google Scholar
  5. Brooks, Peter. Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative. New York: Vintage Books, 1985.Google Scholar
  6. Burgass, Catherine “A Brief Story of Postmodern Plot.” The Yearbook of English Studies, “Time and Narrative,” Vol. 30 (2000), 177–186.Google Scholar
  7. Carroll, Noel. Mystifying Movies: Fads and Fallacies in Contemporary Film Theory. New York: Columbia UP, 1988.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Charnes, Linda. Hamlet’s Heirs. London: Routledge, 2006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cohen, Adam Max. “Hamlet as Emblem: The Ars Memoria and the Culture of the Play,” Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, 3.1 (2003): 77–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Currie, Mark. About Time: Narrative, Fiction, and the Philosophy of Time. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2007.Google Scholar
  11. Derrida, Jacques. Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International. Translated by Peggy Kamuf. New York and London: Routledge, 1994.Google Scholar
  12. Desmond, John and Peter Hawkes, Adaptation: Studying Film and Literature (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005), 137–51.Google Scholar
  13. Dunne, Derek. “‘Superfluous Death’ and the Mathematics of Revenge,” Journal of the Northern Renaissance 6 (2014): n.p.Google Scholar
  14. Elliott, Kamilla. Rethinking the Novel/Film Debate. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003.Google Scholar
  15. Evans, G. Blakemore, et al. The Riverside Shakespeare. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974.Google Scholar
  16. Fernie, Ewan. Shame in Shakespeare. London and New York: Routledge, 2002.Google Scholar
  17. Freud, Sigmund. “The Uncanny.” In Studies in Parapsychology, ed. Philip Rieff. (New York: Collier Books, 1963).Google Scholar
  18. ———. “Screen Memories.” In Early Psychological Writings, ed. Philip Rieff (New York: Collier Books, 1963a).Google Scholar
  19. Garber, Marjorie. Shakespeare’s Ghost Writers: Literature as Uncanny Causality. New York and London: Methuen, 1987.Google Scholar
  20. Genette, Gerard. Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell UP, 1980.Google Scholar
  21. Ghislotti, Stefano. “Narrative Comprehension Made Difficult: Film Form and Mnemonic Devices in Memento,” in Puzzle Films: Complex Storytelling in Contemporary Cinema, ed. Warren Buckland (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 87–106.Google Scholar
  22. Girard, René. A Theater of Envy: William Shakespeare. New York and Oxford: Oxford UP, 1991.Google Scholar
  23. Goddard, Harold C. The Meaning of Shakespeare. 2 volumes. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1951. 1: 331–386.Google Scholar
  24. Hawkes, Terence. “Telmah.” In Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Hartman, eds. Shakespeare and the Question of Theory. London: Methuen, 1985, 310–332.Google Scholar
  25. Heise, Ursula K. Chronoschisms: Time, Narrative, and Postmodernism. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997.Google Scholar
  26. Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Adaptation. New York: Routledge, 2006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hutchinson, Phil and Rupert Read. “Memento: A Philosophical Investigation.” In Jerry Goodenough and Rupert Read, eds., Film As Philosophy: Essays on Cinema after Wittgenstein and Cavell (New York, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 72–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Jahn, Manfred. Narratology: A guide to the theory of narrative (Cologne: U of Cologne, 2005): available at
  29. Jenkins, Harold, ed. Hamlet. London: Methuen, 1982.Google Scholar
  30. Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia: The Complete Guide to Film and the Film Industry, 7th edn. (NY: Harper Collins, 2012).Google Scholar
  31. Klein, Andy. “Everything you wanted to know about Memento,” at
  32. Lehmann, Courtney. Shakespeare Remains: Theater to Film, Early Modern to Postmodern. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2002.Google Scholar
  33. Lewis, Rhodri. Hamlet and the Vision of Darkness (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2017).Google Scholar
  34. Little, William G. “Surviving Memento.” Narrative 13:1 (Jan. 2005), 67–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Mallin, Eric S. Inscribing the Time: Shakespeare and the End of Elizabethan England. Berkeley: U of California P, 1996.Google Scholar
  36. Mercado, Gustavo. The Filmmaker’s Eye: Learning (and Breaking) the Rules of Cinematic Composition. Burlington MA and Oxford: Focal P/Elsevier, 2011.Google Scholar
  37. Miller, J. Hillis. “Narrative.” In Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin, eds., Critical Terms for Literary Study. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1990, 66–79.Google Scholar
  38. Prendergast, Christopher. “Derrida’s Hamlet.” SubStance 106 vol. 34 (no. 1, 2005), 44–47.Google Scholar
  39. Prince, Kathryn. “Misremembering Hamlet at Elsinore.” In Paul Megna, Brid Philips, and R.S. White, eds., Hamlet and Emotions. New York: Palgrave/Macmillan, 2019, 253–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Sinyard, Alan. Filming Literature: The Art of Screen Adaptation. New York: St. Martin’s, 1986.Google Scholar
  41. Sternberg, Meir. The Poetics of Biblical Narrative: Ideological Literature and the Drama of Reading. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1987.Google Scholar
  42. Stewart, Garrett. Framed Time: Towards a Postfilmic Cinema. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Sullivan, Garrett A., Jr. Memory and Forgetting in English Renaissance Drama. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge UP, 2005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eric S. Mallin
    • 1
  1. 1.The University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

Personalised recommendations