Note to reader: this review contains SPOILERS concerning the general plot and execution of the film, but not the actual ending. Readers beware!
Christopher Nolan’s feature debut was originally the brainchild of his brother, Johnathan Nolan. This neo-noir classic is a film you’ll want to see more than once, with an impeccable attention to detail that will engage you beyond the second viewing. Christopher Nolan follows in the neo-noir footsteps of “The Usual Suspects,” and “Se7en,” introducing the audience to a mind-bending mystery that you’ll regret skipping.
Leonard, played by Guy Pearce, suffers from a condition which robs him of his short term memory. Every few moments, he is lost, for he can’t remember where he is, and why he got there, though his long term memory remains intact. The audience is introduced to Leonard in this moment, and just as he is unsure of his past, so too, is the audience. A scene will end, and then the audience is taken backwards in time, to the moments or events that led up to the scene we just saw. The movie, in essence, takes the audience back to the beginning of the movie, uncovering the mystery of Leonard’s past.
Leonard’s goal through the film is to find the man who raped and murdered his wife. This bit of information is what he can remember, and he’s tattooed himself with clues; things he’s learned so far but can’t store in his memory. Along the journey, a variety of characters take advantage of Leonard’s condition to serve their own interests.
For me, this film is the Holy Grail of all film. Granted, this is my opinion, not fact, but it covers everything on my checklist for a near-perfect film. First of all, I never want to be reminded that I’m sitting there watching a movie. This is the most important thing a film must accomplish. Every movie is a grand mixture of lighting, music, acting, production design, etc.; with hundreds of people participating. When you think about that, it’s pretty amazing to see how some films come off flawless, and makes you realize this is probably why a lot of movies are terrible. Memento seems to excel in every important category. The acting is spot on, and I’m able to see through Guy Pearce and see Leonard struggle. The directing is terrific, and the story is awe-inspiring.
Though I consider this to be one of the best films ever made, no film could ever be perfect. While I think the premise is brilliant, one could argue that it’s a bit gimmicky to edit a film backwards like this film is. Additionally, this film is about to get a reboot, which is a cardinal sin in the industry for an original film like this in my opinion. However, that is more business than anything else.
I think the backwards editing, though it can be construed as a gimmick, also challenges conventional filmmaking. Nolan breaks the rules of linear storytelling, and challenges the audience to keep up with him. The brilliance of Christopher Nolan, across all of his work, is his ability to appeal to the masses while including substance enough in his films for the passive viewer to enjoy. Even if you do not pick up on the nuances of Nancy and Leonard’s relationship, you can still enjoy the exposition, climax, and resolution. However, if you are indeed interested in analyzing the film, Christopher Nolan has enough in his character’s and stories to allow you to do so.
In closing, I’ll share two quotes from the film to entice you to see the film.
“I have to believe in a world outside my own mind. I have to believe that my actions still have meaning, even if I can’t remember them. I have to believe that when my eyes are closed, the world’s still there. Do I believe the world’s still there? Is it still out there?… Yeah. We all need mirrors to remind ourselves who we are. I’m no different.”
“Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They’re just an interpretation, they’re not a record, and they’re irrelevant if you have the facts.”
Memento. Dir. Christopher Nolan. Perf. Guy Pearce and Joe Pantoliano. Columbia Tristar Home Video, 2001. DVD.