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Thursday, January 29

Remember Sammy Jankis

"Remember Sammy Jankis." -- Leonard Shelby, Memento

This is the latest in my parallels between film and the "real" world. A stretch no doubt, but a comparison that must be made nonetheless. Here goes...

Memento was a film about a man whose short term memory was lost forever. His only motive in life, vengeance. This exchange was uttered in the film between the principal character, Lenny (played by Guy Pearce) and Natalie (female lead, played by Carrie-Ann Moss).

N: "What's the last thing you do remember?"
L: "My wife..."
N: "That's sweet."
L: "... dying."

Here, Leonard is a man split in two. The Leonard before and the Leonard after the vicious attack that stole his memory. But it is not his story that I wish to draw as a parallel. It is the story that he tells — the story of Sammy Jankis.

Sammy, the experiential predecessor to Leonard, also lost his ability to form new memories in an accident. After a great deal of testing — and under the influence from the insurance company for which he works — it is Leonard who denies the claim made by Mr. and Mrs. Jankis that his condition is real. It is Leonard, claiming to be no fool, that says that the condition cannot be proven to be true, therefore it must be false.

In despair, Mrs. Jankis formulates a final test for her ailing husband and the insurance company; a fool-proof test. She is a diabetic and the memory of the complex process of administering her insulin injection is a memory that Sammy retains from before his accident. She tests his ability to remember whether or not he has given her the medication by resetting her watch and instructing him to deliver a shot each time. She hopes he will remember. It is her ardent hope.

Here, too, Sammy is split in two. There is the Sammy that remembers how to administer insulin and all of his life before that, and there is the Sammy that doesn't remember the immediate past. These two pieces of a man are examples of the pieces of man that are the Palestinians and the Israelis. The Palestinians are the old Sammy, remembering a past they hold dear and will do anything to hold on to. The Israelis are the damaged Sammy, short of memory, even their own.

Mrs. Jankis is the land of Palestine, now Israel. Both manifestations of Sammy believe that they are doing what is best for her. Both manifestations of Sammy claim marriage to her. Both manifestations of Sammy love and want to protect her from death. Yet, both manifestations of Sammy are responsible for her destruction. That the old Sammy, the Palestinians, would use dangerous medicines to fight for her to live, and that damaged Sammy, the Israelis, would do the same but remember and be concerned with only the ends but not the means is the tragedy here. The same blood, the same conviction, the same purpose unties them. Yet, their identities divide them.

The Jewish state of Israel asserts its independence amid the land of Palestine, won by the declaration of a colonial power. The damage done to the Jewish people in the Holocaust reminds and strengthens the resolve they have to secure Israel and to have it persist in this world.

This world, the world which followed the establishment of the United Nations, does not recognize states won by colonization or by force of arms. Israel is the last state commanded into existence by a foreign power. It has been said that the guilt borne by Great Britain and other western democracies has made this so. This command came before the existence of the UN. The authority of the United Nations cannot reach retroactively to a time before its existence.

If it did, one could argue that Canadians, Americans, and Australians would be required to return ownership of the North American continent to its aboriginal people. On the other hand, nations such as Bolivia and Venezuela have take great strides toward equalizing the power held by indigenous and colonial populations. So, too have Canada, Australia, and New Zealand taken great strides toward recognizing the rights of indigenous people.

The plight of Palestinians, however, is markedly different. Palestinians are not simply the indigenous people of Palestine. They, as do many other denominations including Jews, claim spiritual heritage to Palestine and, notably Jerusalem. Unlike others, they are ghettoized in much the same manner that, well, Jews were in Poland under the Nazis. They are terrorized and their property taken in much the same way as, well, Jews were in Germany during the rise of Fascism. It is in this manner that Israelis are damaged, forgetting their own history, consequently destroying the land and the people — who are a reflection of their past selves.

The final test, then, formulated by the land of Palestine is to determine whether or not fundamentalists of the world can permit one another to exist at a place that will, one day, be termed ground zero Jerusalem. To test us, the post-Victorian, ideal Western world (the faceless insurance company in Memento), in our resolve to be satisfied that this conflict will resolve itself and needs no immediate or lasting attention. And, to test the Lord Balfour's (Leonard's) authority in making the decision that set this whole affair in progress. Each injection of the violent cure —manitfest as warfare and resistance — is yet another blow to the land of Palestine.

Ask an Israeli, ask a Palestinian, "What's the last thing you do remember?" The response from either side could be, "My life... dying."


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