Memento

  • Title: Memento
  • Director:  Christopher Nolan
  • Date:  2000
  • Studio:  Newmarket Capital Group, Summit Entertainment, Columbia-Tristar (distributor)
  • Genre:  Suspense
  • Cast:  Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Callum Keith Rennie
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“That must suck. It’s all backwards. I mean, like, maybe you’ve got an idea about what you want to do next, but you can’t remember what you just did.” – Hotel Clerk

“I’m disciplined and organized. I use habit and routine to make my life possible.” – Leonard

Memento is a remarkable movie, because it uses a structure that I don’t think any other film has used. The film is told backwards. It’s also unusual in that there are two films in one. The main story, in color, has each scene taking place immediately before the scene that precedes it. The backing story, in black and white, does move forward in time and is almost a commentary on the other scenes. It also serves to orient the viewer some in any areas that might be really confusing.

The first time I saw Memento, I knew going in that the film would be told backwards – it is what it’s famous for. And even though the film is a little confusing at first, one quickly becomes used to the idea – and it really isn’t as confusing as you might think. The structure forces the viewer to pay close attention to what is happening in the film. The structure also really, really puts an emphasis on editing. And as you watch the film, you end up mentally re-ordering the scenes to put them in context.

However, the structure also emphasizes the character and his point of view. The main character, Leonard (Guy Pearce), is suffering from retrograde amnesia. That is, due to a trauma (we’re told) he can remember his life before the trauma, but he can’t make new memories. Leonard’s life exists in the brief span of a scene, the minute he loses focus, or falls asleep, he forgets everything that’s happened to him. The highly unusual structure, of telling the story backwards, emphasizes this – if you haven’t seen the movie before, you don’t know what happened before either. Therefore when Leonard finds himself chasing a guy – or as he quickly realizes – being chased by a guy with a gun, the audience also has no idea why.

Upon viewing the film a second time, the structure still works. Because the film is told in reverse order, it’s hard to remember individual scenes – so one is, for example, still confused as to why Leonard’s being chased. I was surprised when I watched the film a second time, that the structure still worked and the film isn’t a one hit wonder. I knew the big secret from the end of the film, of course, which I’m not going to reveal in this review. Memento still works as a film even on a second viewing.

Memento is also a film that has a timeless look to it. It’s a story told in cheap hotels, dive bars, and abandoned buildings. Even the one home we see (Natalie’s), although nice, is incredibly nondescript. The anonymous places accentuate Leonard’s situation.

However, Memento is, at it’s center a disturbing film – not because of it’s unique structure, which the viewer quickly gets used to, but because of the Big Secret at the end of the film, The end, which is really the beginning when you think about it. I don’t want to spoil that for movie viewers who haven’t seen it, but once you know, it changes how you view the film. And probably not in the way you think.

Recommendation:  See it! I would especially recommend this movie to film students.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

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2 thoughts on “Memento

    • After writing the review I was reading an article on film noir, I think it was on the AMC website (I was actually looking for a technical definition for some film terms when I found it) – anyway, “Memento” was listed in Neo Noir. And even though at first it doesn’t seem like a Noir film (no fedora-wearing PIs in sight) in theme, with the generic, run-down, locations, the unreliable narrator, and the structure where the audience doesn’t quite know what’s going on (and changes their opinion of Leonard as they watch the film – especially at the end) is classic noir.
      Oddly enough I bought the Blu-Ray on sale at Amazon because it was an early Christopher Nolan film, and he’s become one of my favorite modern directors.

      Like

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