This week The New Yorker, the creme of the fact-checking crop, perpetuates the common misdiagnosis of Memento's protagonist. According to movie critic David Denby, an otherwise careful judge of character and plot, Leonard "suffers from short-term memory loss." Um, no.
As any cognitive neuropsychologist worth his salt--or any attentive adult, or, come to think of it, your average inattentive six-year-old--can tell, Leonard's short-term memory works just fine. How else would he carry on a conversation? What he suffers from is an inability to transfer things from short-term memory to long-term memory. A few minutes after a conversation is over, he forgets it.
Now, maybe I'm a stickler for details. After all, I did spend two years in a lab that studied learning and memory. And the professor I worked for, Anthony Wagner (now at Stanford), was interviewed on NPR about Memento. And he collaborated with Sue Corkin, known for her studies with the most famous anterograde amnesia sufferer in the annals of science, patient HM. (Leonard in Memento has anterograde amnesia.)
But, really, is it all that complicated? The concept of short-term memory? Remembering things for a short amount of time, as Leonard so capably demonstrates over and over throughout the entirety of the film? The real question is: How did this Memento misdiagnosis meme begin? It's easy to hear "short-term memory loss" and repeat it without stopping to think about it (as nearly every movie critic has done), but who was the first person to say, yeah, that's what it is! Leonard has no short-term memory!
Sure, "short-term memory loss" is easier on the ear than "anterograde amnesia," but you know what's even easier? "Amnesia." And, it's--get this--accurate. If you're into that sort of thing.