Dr. Toth Sheds Light on Psychological Thriller, “Memento” at Dante’s Seminar

Professors give Dr. Toth feedback on her paper at the Dante’s Seminar. Photo by Cara Ledwidge.


Seminars typically involve a discussion by students led by a professor, but on Thursday afternoon, Dr. Meg Toth led the Dante’s Seminar with an audience of almost all professors.

The Dante’s Seminar is a tradition within the School of Arts that involves a professor presenting on a topic that they have been researching and feel very strong about in hopes of hearing the opinions and seeking the advice of other professors in their own school and departments.

“There are three seminars a semester, so about one per month,” English professor Dr.David Witzling said.

These seminars usually involve a professor who has completed a paper and wishes to hear feedback, but in this case, Toth is only halfway through her paper and wanted advice from her colleagues after she presented to them her first half. Toth has been working on her paper for the past few months, but the “ideas (for the paper) have been germinating for a long time,” she

Toth has been a professor at Manhattan College since 2008 and her areas of research include late 19th and 20th century U.S. literature and visual culture with a focus in race, gender and imperialism. She also has a background in multiethnic U.S. literature and new modernist studies and film studies, her film studies research being the basis of her discussion.

This Dante’s Seminar was held in the O’Malley Alumni Room 100 at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 6. While professors gathered around the wine and cheese waiting for the event to begin, quiet chatter filled the room until English professor Dr. Rocco Marinaccio asked everyone to take their seats. A few students attended the event as well, one of them being a prior student of Toth’s.

After Marinaccio’s introduction of Toth and her work at MC, she began by saying her paper is “very much a work in progress.” She started off by reading sections from her paper while including clips from various movies as she set the scene for her listeners.

One clip featured the opening credits of a classical noir film “Out of the Past,” but the remainder of the clips were mostly from the 2000 film “Memento,” featuring a man, Leonard Shelby, who loses his memory from a head injury he incurred in an attack resulting in the murder of his wife. Leonard begins to search for the person who killed his wife, but his search is hindered by the fact that he has short-term memory loss and can only remember that he is searching for his wife’s killer through the Polaroid pictures he keeps on him.

Toth described the way that the scenes from Leonard’s past are shot in “black and white and move forward in chronological fashion” but the present scenes are shot in “color and move backwards in time until the two frames merge at the end.”

The film is described by Toth as being part of the postmodern noir genre and compared it to other films like “Shutter Island,” another neo-noir film, and also Double Indemnity, a classical noir film where the main character plots with his femme fatale to kill her husband and make off with the insurance money, but it does not go the way they had planned.

Toth believes the difference between the classical noir and the postmodern noir is that the classical noir wanted to get away from the idea of the home, and focused on what Toth called “tangible absence,” while the neo-noir films seem to have characters who want to get back to the idea of the home but somehow cannot make it there.

Throughout the seminar, there was a great emphasis on space as Toth claimed that “time is intimately bound up with the spaces.” Toth began to use film jargon to describe this idea, defining chronotype as the “time space” and her own word, “neumonotype,” to define the memory space.

As the group opened up for discussion, the issue of the use of memory as either productive or destructive was argued because the use of memory became extremely complicated in the film because Leonard has memories that did not actually occur. Toth explained that there are “complex debates within the scholarship” about the film and its controversial ending where a friend of Leonard’s reveals to him that Leonard himself is his wife’s killer. The revelation that Leonard is the man he has been searching for is very controversial because throughout the whole movie, he looks for someone that turns out to be himself, making him the man who destroyed his own life.

Most of the professors in the room had seen the film, but many had different views as to which parts of the film were important and which were not. Many began to wonder about the screenwriter of the film, Christopher Nolan, and whether or not he had a fascination with amnesia or was the film mostly about memories and their effects on characters.

The ideas went back and forth between professors of all departments, including the religion, philosophy, English and communication departments to name a few. The discussion was able to help Toth think of ideas that she may not have otherwise considered, which she now hopes to use to give direction to the second half of her paper.

“It was exciting to see so many different professors from all different backgrounds come together in an academic setting to debate an issue of film and the meaning behind it,” Lindsey Pamlanye, one of the few students who attended the seminar, said. “I’m happy I got a chance to see it.”