Year of Release: 2000
Date Viewed: August 26th, 2010
MPAA Rating: R
The main character of Memento suffers from an untreatable case of storage failure. For anyone fortunate enough to view and appreciate this one-of-a-kind thriller, the movie is anything but forgettable.
Guy Pearce stars as Leonard Shelby, a former insurance claims investigator. His life is turned upside down after an attacker murders his wife and leaves him for dead. From that point on, Leonard devotes his life to revenge and vows to never stop his search for the killer until one or both of them is dead. There is only one problem affecting his search and it's a big one. The incident gave Leonard serious brain damage and now he is unable to form new memories. Everything that took place before the incident is still intact. But his short-term memory only lasts for ten minutes or so before it's all erased from his mind.
To keep track of where he stands with the investigation, Leonard relies on countless hand-written notes and photographs so he has something to help explain why is in a certain location and why. The most important clues such as the killer's physical characteristics are tattooed on his body so they cannot be lost.
We all use notes to help ourselves remember things from time to time. But can you imagine living in a world where those notes command your entire life? As a character is wise enough to point out, if your laundry list is mixed up with your grocery list, you could end up eating your underwear.
So the question is...how dependable can notes really be if you can't even remember writing them? They certainly come in handy when studying for an exam. And having physical proof or facts is always a preferred method over eyewitness testimony. But even those tools can be prone to storage failure. How can Leonard possibly know for sure who to trust or what is real? Is the written word the way to go or is visual memory underrated?
To help the audience understand Leonard's daily confusion, most of the story is told in backwards chronological order. You'll be watching each scene not knowing how it is set up just as Leonard doesn't know why he is sitting someplace. And then each following scene will explain how the previous one came to exist. Confused already? Welcome to the club. Memento will challenge you. Take my advice though. Don't let the movie win. If you give up on it, you will miss out on one of the darkest, most beautiful and most thought-provoking tales that would make many contemporary authors envious of the Nolan brothers' creativity.
I was about to subtract a point for Memento's attention to detail before realizing that I was the one that should've been penalized. One thing that had bothered me throughout every viewing of the movie was the illogical reasoning behind why Leonard could even be aware that he has a condition. If his troubles started as soon as the fateful blow to the head occurred, he would logically have to re-learn the fact that he has short-term memory loss. As far as his mind is concerned, everything has happened immediately after the fateful attack. How could knowledge of the condition be retained in his mind but nothing else? Well, it turns out that there are times when even logic cannot be trusted. (Have I mentioned this movie has the power to make you paranoid? No? I knew I should have wrote that down.) Upon further research, I learned that for most real-life patients that suffer from short-term memory loss, they in fact ARE aware that something is wrong. As one quoted (paraphrasing), "it's like waking up from a dream. You know something had happened but you cannot recall what it was." Quite a disturbing thought. Be ready for more of them. Kudos to director Christopher Nolan and writer Jonathan Nolan for doing a better job at background homework than yours truly.
Just as Chris Nolan would later demonstrate again with Inception, the psychology behind the subject at hand is staggeringly brilliant. Things like taken-for-granted memories and trust is explored in ways most would never consider.
Since storytelling appears to be his gift, I sometimes wish Nolan would only write for the big budget pictures so he wouldn't have to bite off more than he could chew by directing them too. Memento reminds me why his visual skills are better than I give him credit for. (I should have wrote that one down too. Silly me.) Flashback sequences are shot in a color scheme where colors are practically non-existant but it's not all that noticeable. Kind of like waking up from a dream. Hmmm. And the opening sequence is memorable in itself for setting the tone in the most perfect imaginable. I don't think Nolan's inspiration has ever been stronger than the year this movie was released.
If you have never seen Memento before, be sure to give yourself plenty of aftermath time. It's impossible to fall asleep immediately after it ends because your mind will have plenty of questions that need immediate answers. The best part is that it's so much fun to come up with theories and explanations for why events unfolded the way they did. As I said before, Memento will challenge you and the film accepts no responsibility for providing the answers to you. But as Chris Nolan as stated in various interviews, the answers are all there if you look closely enough. Perhaps taking notes would be a good idea for this unique viewing experience. Or is it?