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Film: Memento

"Now, where was I?"

Memento is a 2000 Psychological Thriller film written and directed by Christopher Nolan, considered by many fans to be one of his masterpieces.

Lenny (Guy Pearce) has a problem. During a robbery in which his wife (Jorja Fox) is killed, he suffers a blow to the head which gives him anterograde amnesia: His brain is unable to record new memories. He can remember the last five to fifteen minutes, and he can remember his life from before the injury, but everything in between is gone. Now his only goal is to track down his wife's killer.

To find John G, and to simply function from day to day, Lenny employs a variety of reminders and notes to himself, like Polaroids and tattoos. Of course, this isn't a perfect world, and in the hunt for John G, he comes across some who would take advantage of his condition...

The majority of the movie is shown in backwards chronological order, using distinctive anchor points that allows you to follow each scene. A sub plot is chronological with Lenny in a hotel room shown in black-and-white. This creates a mood matching Leonard's condition, ending in the chronological middle of the narrative.

This film provides examples of:

  • Absence of Evidence: Leonard destroyed several documents, before the beginning of the film, which indicated that his wife's attacker had already been found and brought to justice. Furthermore, after Teddy shows him the photo he took of Leonard once the deed was done, he burns both it, AND the new photo he just took of the killed "John G.", to continue to delude himself into thinking his wife's killer was still at large.
  • All There in the Manual: Much of the backstory is only explained through the movie's promotional website, including Leonard sending himself messages to convince himself that there was a second burglar who murdered his wife, prompting his eventual escape from the institution he was in.
  • Back to Front: The majority of the film is shown in reverse order. These scenes alternate with shorter scenes arranged chronologically. The two plot threads meet at the end of the film (which is the chronological middle of the story).
  • Best Served Cold: Lenny's only motivation is to kill the man who murdered his wife. Assuming she was even murdered by the man, and not killed by Leonard giving her too many insulin injections.
  • The Big Board: Lenny sets one up in his motel room, highlighting important people and places.
  • Burn Baby Burn: Lenny disposes of several of his late wife's belongings this way.
  • Country Matters: That's how Natalie finally gets Leonard to snap and punch her.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: One thread of the movie is monochrome and the other is in color. The trope is played with very well when the plot threads' meeting point coincides with a developing Polaroid photo.
  • Downer "Ending": At the end of the movie, you discover that Leonard is basically a Serial Killer, even if he doesn't remember any of his previous kills. Which is sad. But it's even sadder when you realize that at the end (which is the beginning of the movie) he killed the only person who had him in check. And because he doesn't remember a thing, he will continue to seek revenge, killing we don't know how many people in the process. Revenge for nothing, of course, since his wife didn't die in the attack at all, but was accidentally killed by Leonard, in the way he believes Sammy's wife died. Damn.
  • Dynamic Entry: Subverted in one of the only funny moments in the movie.
  • Easter Egg: The DVD is full of them, including one that even lets you watch the film in chronological order.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: Characters are always lying to Lenny and the big reveal at the end ( Lenny has killed multiple people by the name of John G. and he confused his own story with that of Sammy Jankis) is left vague on whether or not it is the truth or just a time stalling story.
  • Film Noir
  • Foregone Conclusion: "Teddy", AKA "John G" gets shot.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: while Lenny is narrating the story of Sammy Jankis, a shot of Sammy sitting in a nursing home briefly changes to a shot of Lenny in the exact same spot and clothing
  • Insistent Terminology: It's "Leonard", not "Lenny".
  • It's All Junk: Lenny tosses several of his wife's belongings into a fire.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: AVERTED!!! In fact, one of the few films that treats amnesia anywhere near realistically.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
    • In an early scene, Leonard explains his condition to Burt, who comments that suffering from anterograde amnesia must be bizarre in that someone afflicted with the condition might have an idea of where they want to go next but not remember where they just came from, in essence living their life "backwards". This line of dialogue helps to explain the film's narrative structure to the audience as a means of representing Leonard's mental state.
    • In a flashback, Leonard remembers his wife re-reading a dog-eared book that she has read so many times the cover has fallen off. He mocks her for it, observing that he always thought the pleasure of reading a book was in wanting to know what happened next. Of course, the film itself is based on the idea that the audience always knows what happened next and the pleasure is in finding out what happened beforehand.
  • Living Lie Detector: Leonard learned to do this before his injury as an insurance claims investigator. As such, it is extremely difficult to deceive him in a face to face conversation. Or so he believes.
  • Note to Self / Memory Gambit: Pretty much Leonard's only way of functioning from day to day.
  • Ontological Mystery
  • Painting the Medium: The reason for the use of Anachronic Order in the film. Leonard cannot form new memories, and so cannot remember the events which immediately preceded the events he currently finds himself in. Similarly, the audience encounters each new scene ignorant of the events which preceded it.
  • Platonic Prostitution: At one point Leonard hires a prostitute to impersonate his wife, but he does not have sex with her.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The protagonist suffers from anterograde amnesia, so his memory is extremely limited. The protagonist in fact makes deliberate use of his condition in order to deceive and manipulate himself. It's also revealed that the memories he does have are heavily distorted.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Natalie and Teddy just love using the protagonist's short-term memory in order to manipulate him and at the end, or rather, the middle, we learn that he actually manipulated "himself" into shooting Teddy by leaving indications that he was John G.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: Constantly, to the point where it's more like "What Did I Do Thirty Seconds Ago?"
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Natalie uses this trick to make Lenny go after Dodd.

    Creator/Jonathan NolanThe Prestige
Martha Marcy May MarlenePsychological ThrillerOldboy
FollowingCreator/Christopher NolanInsomnia
PaybackFilm NoirThe Man Who Wasn't There
Eyes Wide ShutMysteryFiction/FilmBrotherhood of the Wolf
Bourgeois BohemianImageSource/Live-Action FilmsHuman Notepad
The Man Who Sued GodFilms of 2000 - 2004 Metropolis

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