Reviews: Memento

Surprisingly brilliant

Cristopher Nolan is a director who, in spite of his faults (mainly the pretentious dialogue that can often be found in his movies), I'm glad is around because his films are always at least interesting, and there's nothing out there quite like them.

Memento, frequently regarded as his Magnum Opus, is simultaneously his most ambitious and least ambitious film.

It's the "least ambitious" because it's a comparatively smaller film than his other works. There's no big-budget action sequences, the cast has some famous people but isn't all-star, and the scope of the film itself, unlike the Dark Knight saga or Inception, is quite small. It's just a man with retrograde amnesia trying to find his wife's murderer.

But that's where the true ambition lies; without going into spoilers, the story of Memento is good, but not unusual for noir. However, in an effort to simulate the experience and condition of the protagonist, Leonard Shelby, the story of the film is told primarily in reverse, with a few chronological segments in black and white; the two eventually meet up towards the end.

This is an extremely novel and honestly amazing storytelling decision, because not only does it create an emotional anchor between the Lenny and the audience, it also makes for a very engaging method of telling the story, because every segment continuously unveils more and more of the narrative, and the audience is in turn forced to continuously recontextualize the events of the film.

I was a little bit confused by the film at first, but after a little bit I began to understand what was going on without that much trouble. Around the thirty minute mark, I had the sudden realization that I might be, in fact, watching a work of genius.

By the end, I was left with a feeling that used to be much more common in my youth, but which is sadly rare nowadays: a distinct sense of awe, the feeling that I had just witnessed something really meaningful and powerful.

I now have to agree that this is, by far, Nolan's strongest film, thanks of its novel storytelling, solid performances by all actors, and generally better dialogue than his other films. Would recommend.

Thriller with a Brain

Lenny is a man who can no longer create memories. He knows who he is and where he comes from, but not how he got where he is right now or why he's there. Every time he meets someone, he meets them for the first time and he only has the look in their eyes to guess what they know about him, what their relationship with him might be and what their motivations could be. The last thing he can remember is his wife dying and he wants revenge for the killer.

How can he kill a person without memory? He doesn't need memory, after all the police don't use memory, they use evidence, he reasons. So he writes himself notes and tattoos his body in ways which will remind him where his car is, how he should trust this person, what does he know about the killer.

And because the film is shot backwards (the scenes play forwards but each scene begins where the scene that comes after it ends), the audience is in the same situation as Lenny. We know what he's done, but not why. We know what his notes are, but not how he got them. Every scene is reinterpreted by the scene that comes before it and with every scene our ideas about the plot have to change completely with the new context.

But it's not a hard film to follow, it requires thought but it will keep you tense every step of the way, hanging on for the next scene and the next revelation. It's an analysis of a man with no memory, but it's also a thriller and a mystery. Don't dismiss it as an arty film, or a confusing film, because it's not just an arty film but also a straight thriller, and although it's confusing, you won't feel cheated by the confusion and it will make sense in the end.

Buy this film, set aside some time to watch it, maybe not when you're tired, watch it and be amazed and be glad that you when the film comes to a close you can still remember the beginning, unlike poor tortured and lost Lenny.

Nolan's First Masterpiece

I've always been a huge Christopher Nolan fanboy, unrepentant in my love for his films. Memento is no exception. The brilliance of the film has been noted upon by critic after critic, just as it deserves. Nolan's meticulously crafted screenplay should have earned him an Oscar. Hell, he should have been nominated and won Best Director. The film Deserved a slew of Oscar nominations it never got. At least history has redeemed it.

The film stars the criminally underrated Guy Pearce as Leonard, and amnesiac looking for revenge. the film is shown backwards, showing the previous action that Leonard did that he forgot. In the mix is Joe Pantoliano as Teddy, a man who may or may not be helpful to Lenny, and Carrie-Anne Moss as Natalie, who is also seemingly helpful. I don't want to give too much away, so I'll leave the plot at that.

The acting in the film is superb. Guy Pearce gives one of the most difficult performances an actor can ever give. His character technically has no arc due to his amnesia, but Pearce makes us feel for Lenny. He gives it his all and it shows. Getting snubbed for an Oscar in favor of Sean Penn's full-retard in I Am Sam was criminal. Moss gives a wonerfully tricky performance, a far cry from her Trinity persona in The Matrix. Pantoliano at first seems to be a typical role for him, but by the time The Reveal happens, we realize how three-demensional his character is.

I hate it when people complain about not understanding the film. It just proves the degradation of human intellegence in society. The film, despite it's complicated premise, is easy to watch, and benefits from multiple viewings. I had no trouble understanding the film. Just be warned, I think I understood Mulholland Drive, so maybe I'm not the best judge of that.

This is easily one of the best films of the Aughts, as are all of Nolans films. Nolan is a true genius, and this film proves it. If you don't believe me just watch this film. You won't be sorry. ****/****

Quite the thought experiment

Memento is a film that revels in ambiguity without being overindulgent. It's easy enough to see why. Pay close attention to the opening scene, and recall one thing. For each of these little scenes, this is all Lenny can remember. How would you act in that situation, knowing what Lenny does? For your typical viewer, cracks in the narrative become obvious by about the fifth scene, earlier for a troper, but none of this is a luxury Lenny possesses. What he lacks in memories he makes up for, unfortunately, in hubris. He assumes the greatest of his general skill set, and places the utmost trust in the notes he's written for himself. He never assumes that there is a contingency that these two states of being cannot handle.

And that's the brilliance of the whole enterprise. Put yourself in Lenny's shoes. Your wife is dead, and you're hunting for the real killer. Do you have time for that angsty garbage about self-doubt, or do you need to move on and get it done with what you've got? Be honest here, as since this is TV Tropes I'm willing to bet you've got a zombie response plan. We'd all like to believe we're Crazy Prepared for anything, but what if you're really not that smart? What if you're wrong? Is true grit about blasting a zombie's face with a shotgun, or buckling down and admitting that you could have made a horrible mistake? You know, like pretty much everyone on the planet has done at some point in their lives?

When it gets right down to it, that's what Memento is about. It's not the suspenseful crime thriller action, and it's not the wacky gimmick of the film being shown in a really strange chronological order. It's about the Enemy Within, only this is a far more terrifying prospect than any of the examples on that page. It turns out we don't need a dark, demonic external powers to lose control over ourselves. Rather, all it takes is the underestimation of a single critical weakness. And the worst part? You'll convince yourself that since you came up with the original idea, there's no way anyone could be pulling your strings.