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Memento

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Memento
 
Christopher Nolan I 2001 I USA
 
Movie Image
 

The very thing that Hollywood most lacks nowadays is originality. In an era where we're constantly being bombarded with remakes, re-imaginings, rehashes, prequels and, of course, interminable sequels, creativity surely does not seem to be the main (and altogether most important) factor in the vast majority of American films. Hollywood is rapidly sinking amongst a collection low quality high concepts and it just seems as though its following the same formulaic ideas over and over again. Not to mention the explosions and gunfights that seem to fill most of today's films. It looks to me as though movie producers just write down a simplistic and monotonous equation and think that it will make a good movie. Granted, there can be exceptions, but they come in small quantities, and at very rare times. One of those exceptions is Christopher Nolan's Memento.

 

Hitchcock was once famously quoted as saying, "You need three things to make a good movie: a good script, a good script and a good script." This citation does not just suit Memento; it defines it. Christopher Nolan, who both wrote and directed the film, has made an unrepeatable tour de force about murder and the consequences that it may bring. The script is full of twists and turns, and given that its narrated in a totally distinct way, the more credit that should go to Nolan. The narrative structure of the film is non-linear and told in reverse, meaning that we get to see the latter events of the story unfold at the beginning of the film. Wait, did that make sense? Basically, the film begins from the ending of the story and ends with the beginning of it. This technique makes the story so much more intriguing as the audience is willing to know what's going to happen next (or rather, what happened before). Because of the intricacy of the fragmented narrative configuration, there are moments in which I, no matter how many times I watch it, am not able to discern what's going to happen next. Not because I don't know, but because I just don't remember (funnily enough).

Despite all odds, Christopher Nolan's direction is simply superb, both fooling and disorienting the viewers with the diabolically clever story, and managing to skillfully execute the complex narrative (which at the same time is very neatly edited, too). His taut, hawk-eyed direction is mainly what makes the film work.

 

The story is simple. However, it is the way its told that turns it into a kaleidoscope of endless confusions; Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) is determined to track down and kill the person who brutally raped and murdered his wife. The difficulty of locating his wife's killer, however, is multiplied by the fact that Leonard suffers from a rare, untreatable form of memory loss. Even though he can remember events and details of his life prior to his accident, Leonard cannot recall any event, the places he has visited or anyone he has met just minutes before. The problem is, he is not capable of making new memories. Haunted by what he's lost and motivated to find out why his wife was killed, the only way he can store evidence is on scraps of paper, Polaroid photos, index cards, file folders and tattooing crucial clues on his body.

 

There is a particular little scene in the film in which we see Leonard walk into the reception of a hotel. The shot is taken from the inside of the hotel, meaning that we see him walking from the outside. He's been staying there for quite a while, but evidently he cannot remember. He is about to open the door, (on which we can clearly see that it says PUSH). And then we see him push the door from the outside. The door does not open. Why? Because he was meant to pull. Perhaps you didn't really comprehend or know what I'm talking about if you have not seen the film, but this tiny sequence just goes to show you how big Nolan's love for detail is. By showing us a very small scene, totally silent and without any needless dialogue, he demonstrates to us how serious Leonard's condition really is. Since he's been in the hotel before, surely he should know that when you walk into reception from the outside you're meant to pull the door? But no. He just can't recall. He's forgotten. The reason I love this scene is because, although at first glance it may not seem so, it gives Pearce's character a great deal of depth. Many will think it doesn't serve the story or advance it in any way, but for me, it means a lot.

 

The film is excellently acted. Guy Pearce once again paints the whole film with a multifaceted assortment of emotions; grief, anger, irony, whatever feeling or sensation that he displays is done wonderfully, not just with talent but with versatility, too. Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano (who both starred in 1999's The Matrix) provide fine supporting roles, as they trick and lie to Leonard for their own advantage. The characters in the film are all well illustrated; each one suffers from different things, but the most admirable concept (character-wise, that is) is that it's not all a matter of good and bad. Leonard Shelby is supposed to be the "hero" of the film, but it is clearly obvious that he is not entirely good. He has committed sins, he has done things no-one should ever have done. Likewise, the rest of the personages are not all wholly good or bad; rather, Nolan gives them a rather greyish tint, neither white nor black, meaning that we do not know whether what they're going to do next is going to be the right or the wrong thing.

 

Memento is essentially a tale about revenge, with a few noir elements thrown in. It's a story about violence and the consequences that it may bring, about what people often do in order to get vengeance. Leonard Shelby is a man devastated by his past. He's absolutely heartbroken, despaired, desperate and sorrowful. Above all, he feels the need to discover the man who murdered his wife and to kill the person who did it. But why even bother doing it, if he isn't going to remember? This is where the true message of the story lies. At times, it may be a bit too hard to decipher what Nolan really intends to communicate to us. Is he telling us that revenge is a good thing? Or is he, on the other hand, telling us that revenge only complicates things? Personally, I think I'd go for the latter. While we profoundly empathise with Leonard Shelby (we feel his excruciating pain and sense of loss), somehow we know that by taking revenge he is not doing the right thing. It is going to get him absolutely nowhere  - nowhere fruitful at least. We follow his quest for revenge with high interest, but, at the end of the day, we are all aware that he is not choosing the right path.   

 

The technical aspects of the film are mostly greatly polished; from the moody, dry cinematography of Wally Pfister to Dody Dorn's phenomenal editing and David Julian's score, it can be affirmed that every technical component is magnificently used for the benefit of the film.

Without a doubt one of the most original and inventive films of all time, Memento is one of those films that, after watching it, you immediately feel the urge to see it again. Incredibly difficult to describe and mesmerising to regard, it is irritating for all the perplexity it crafts around the viewer's mind and fascinating for its uniqueness. Seldom has a film had such an impact on me, seldom has a film left me thinking, "This is it. This is what cinema should be like." There truly aren't sufficient words for me to describe the film.

 

Brilliantly directed and compellingly absorbing all the way through, Memento leaves you with a cerebral pancake as gigantic as Mount Everest. This is mainly due to the ending, in which the viewer won't be able to determine what to make of it. It's not that its badly told, it's just that its plainly complicated to interpret. Hundreds of theories, elucidations, assumptions and speculations have been made about the film, some of which seem to get you nowhere, on literally thousands of message boards across the Internet. The film, because of its convolution, bamboozles so much that it's impossible to understand it all within a first viewing. Because, if that is not the case, you must have an IQ of 327. Memento is a film worth seeing over and over again, because of its thematic and narrative density and richness. The joy we obtain from Memento does not arrive with the solution itself, but with the solving of it. A riveting experience, Memento proves to be eye-poppingly innovative and ingeniously stimulating. And in a time where originality is the main factor that the vast majority of Hollywood films seem to lack, Memento comes as a breath of fresh air. A labyrinthine masterpiece that is as psychologically worrying as it is incredible. Now... where was I?

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Reviewed by The Third M?n, 2003