Wednesday, June 1, 2011

#299. Memento (2000)

Directed By: Christopher Nolan

Starring: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano

Tag line: "Some memories are best forgotten"

Trivia:  Aaron Eckhart, Brad Pitt, Charlie Sheen and Thomas Jane were considered for the role of Leonard before Guy Pearce got the part

Film makers should be able to experiment with narrative without alienating the audience, and without creating something that's impenetrable.” This quote is from director Christopher Nolan, whose 2000 film, Memento, threw conventional narrative right out the window. A story of revenge told in reverse, Memento is remarkable in that, despite revealing its conclusion up front, the movie still finds a way to hide a surprise around every corner. 

Insurance adjuster Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) suffers from a rare disorder that affects his short-term memory, a condition that's the result of an injury he sustained when two crooks broke into his house and attacked him. Tragically, Leonard's wife (Jorja Fox), who was raped by one of the assailants, died shortly after the incident. Remembering everything about his life up to his wife's death yet unable to recall what happened five minutes ago, Leonard is nonetheless determined to exact bloody revenge on the man who killed his wife (the only information he has to go on is the name “John G.”, who the police have named as a person of interest in their report). Two people, Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) and Natalie (Carrie Anne Moss), are supposedly assisting Leonard in his search for his wife’s killer, but with his memory as unreliable as it is, can he really trust either of them? 

Events in Memento unfold backwards to front, with the finale playing out over the opening title sequence. With such a unique approach to the story, you might think any mystery surrounding Leonard's quest for justice would be over before the film ever got started. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, the unusual way director Nolan structures his story allows us to see the world as Leonard sees it, which, at times, can be pretty confusing. Quite often throughout Memento, we’re left feeling as disjointed as poor Leonard, who usually finds himself in the middle of a baffling situation, with no idea how he got there. One morning, Leonard wakes up in a strange hotel room, where he discovers a badly beaten man (Callum Keith Rennie) bound and gagged in the closet. At this point in the film, neither Leonard nor the audience have seen this man before, and none of us has a clue as to who he is, who beat him up, or how he fits into the story. Throughout Memento, we know how it all will end, but the journey towards that ending remains a complete mystery. This is what makes Memento such a gripping film; Nolan keeps us guessing ‘why’, even when the who, what and where are a foregone conclusion. 

While Nolan may have tampered with the time line in Memento, the secrets surrounding Leonard remain intact, and pose enough unanswered questions to make the entire journey worthwhile.


Anthony Lee Collins said...

I agree completely with Nolan's statement that you quote. I think that applies to fiction writers as well. There are many ways to tell a story, and some stories demand non-linear narrative.

And I do like this movie a lot, though I have been very disappointed with Nolan's work since. His first Batman was completely forgettable (I remember a monorail thing and a ticking bomb and that's it -- I don't even remember who the villain was). His second Batman was an okay movie with one unforgettable performance. Inception was eXistenZ on steroids, and I thought eXistenZ was just fine without steroids.

But this one is a good, smart, tight movie.

Dave Becker said...

@Anthony: I also agree with Nolan. In fact, the most interesting works, whether they be movies or whatever, usually play fast and loose with conventional narrative structure (Tarantino's damn near made a career out of doing so).

As for Nolan, I did enjoy both THE DARK KNIGHT and INCEPTION. As for your remark about BATMAN BEGINS being forgettable, I might have taken serious exception... if I could remember more than 5 minutes of the movie myself (though, to be fair, I've only seen it once, anf that was the week it was released)

Thanks for stopping by, and for the comment.

Anthony Lee Collins said...

I did enjoy Inception quite a bit (more than the Batman movies), but I didn't think it was on the level of Memento. More fun for the eyes, yes, but less entertaining for the brain.

As for Tarantino, definitely. A big inspiration for my writing, at one point (in terms of structure).

Dave Becker said...

Anthony: No argument here: INCEPTION was fun, but MEMENTO certainly had more meat on the bones!

Klaus said...

I couldn't agree more with your assessment of Memento. It's one of a handful of films that after seeing in theatre, I went to see again the following night.

That we know how the film ends, but that it remains a complete mystery as to how the characters get to the beginning - is a wonderful piece of storytelling. And the fact that that the narrative structure of the film mimics Leonard's journey is icing on the cake.

With work like Memento to his credit, I so looked forward to Inception, especially after seeing the trailers. Unfortunately I felt like asking for my admission back on that one.

Dave Becker said...

@Klaus: MEMENTO is great for all the reasons you go into.

As for INCEPTION, I certainly liked it better than you (I was genuinely entertained). Of course, it doesn't have the same clever subtlety as MEMENTO, but then, INCEPTION was never intended to BE a subtle film! For what it was, I liked it.

Thanks for the comment! They're always appreciated.

moviesandsongs365 said...

I couldn't figure out Memento , which made me love it even more for testing me, haha! Had to see it in chronological order on the dvd extras to finally "get it" ( :
Very well done, like you say his memory is unreliable, and we are sort of inside his head. For me, Chris Nolan is a true innovator of our times(minus the batmans) Nolan's The following (1999) likewise is structured out of order, very good also, recommended ( :

Dave Becker said...

@moviesandsongs365: MEMENTO was definitely a film you couldn't watch demanded your attention.

And I completely agree about Christopher Nolan. As for THE FOLLOWING, I did see it once, but it must be 8 years since I've done so, meaning it's about due for a re-watch.

Thanks for stopping by, and for the comment.