Memento Movie Essay Reviews

Christopher Nolan's first film, Following, was an elusive thriller which for all its faults effected a strange tentacular growth in the mind. Even now, I find myself selling it to people in conversation - particularly Nolan's philosopher-burglar, a connoisseur of London's empty spaces, addicted to the transgressive thrill of trespassing on other people's intimate lives. In time, I'm sure Following will come to be seen as an occult classic about the capital city, to be compared with work by Chris Petit and Iain Sinclair.

Now Nolan has gone to Hollywood and the result is a glossier, flashier follow-up, Memento, starring Guy Pearce and Carrie-Anne Moss. It is a film to induce exhilaration along with a tiny, acute stab of regret. The regret is that, while the melancholy search for a British movie renaissance continues, the most natural young movie talent this country has produced in ages evidently finds American to be his natural cinematic language. But the exhilaration is that his film is terrific: exciting, demanding, agile, sly, witty and fun. Bobbing and weaving for 112 minutes, it is a film which somehow manages to keep you off balance and on your toes.

If Oliver Sacks wanted to write something in the style of Raymond Chandler, maybe Memento would be it: a complex thriller about time, memory and identity. Pearce plays Leonard Shelby, a guy who wakes up every morning without knowing where he is, or why he's there. This is because of a mental condition caused by being hit on the head by an intruder. Now Leonard has become obsessed with his mission to catch this man who - as he repeatedly explains to anyone who will listen - raped and murdered his wife.

But he now has a short-term memory loss problem, meaning that although he can remember everything from before he lost his wife, now, after every 15 minutes, everything is wiped out. So Leonard has to take polaroids of key people that he meets, and vital facts have to be agonisingly tattooed on his body in case he loses handwritten notes. These shuffled photos and bizarre corporeal messages become Leonard's grotesque simulacrum of existence.

"How am I supposed to feel, when I can't feel time?" Leonard moans. And, correspondingly, how is Christopher Nolan going to construct a thriller without the continuous thread of time and memory to slot its constituent scenes together? That he is able to do so, daringly abolishing normal narrative rules, is proof of a precocious imagination and technical facility. Nolan's seductive disruptions of story order recall Tarantino, Bryan Singer's The Usual Suspects, the puzzles of Nic Roeg, and the semi-amnesiac trope is familiar from Tom Tykwer's Wintersleepers. But Nolan's deployment of these structural devices is enjoyably distinctive.

The key motif is the wound: Leonard begins the movie with two nasty and mysterious scratch marks on his left cheek; in successive scenes these are shown in random stages of bloom, like the Polaroids Leonard takes. And when Leonard meets the beautiful and enigmatic Natalie (Moss), a bartender and girlfriend of a local drug-dealer, she too is sporting a livid welt to the cheek and a split lip.

"How have they got these marks?" is the question - and the answer comes in fragments, a jumbled tale of violence and double-cross. (It reminded me of an episode in Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner, The Schizoid Man, when No 6 has to work out how long he's been unconscious from the condition of a bruise on his fingernail.) Like a creepy kaleidoscope, each nudge and twist seems to jolt the disordered pieces into a new pattern.

Leonard's friends are also his tormentors. They claim to be helping him, but are they just using the poor muddled dupe to advance their own nefarious ends? It is not merely Natalie that Leonard has to worry about: there is also the deeply sinister Teddy (Joe Pantoliano), a chipper guy who appears to want nothing more than to help. Wherever Leonard is, whatever stage the narrative is at, whatever state his cheek-wound is in, the grinning Teddy is there, trying to help him find his wife's assailant. It is an excellent performance from Pantoliano, who attains a hideous, Mephistophelean potency.

There's a twist in the tail, obviously; in fact a mighty lash in the tail, which somehow manages to be more shocking and upsetting for emerging from this weird, fractured puzzle. Memento is a film high on thrills and high on IQ - an impressive new step in the career of this heavyweight director.

Some memories are best forgotten. You have to appreciate how original a movie ‘Memento' really is!

Losing your memory would have to go close to one of the worst experience anyone could ever suffer from. In the movie ‘Memento', we get to see how bad it is to suffer from short term memory loss. It also gives us the chance to see how far a patient of such a disease will go to remember what is most important to him. In the vain of ‘Pulp Fiction', Memento is a movie that has to be seen to be believed. It is no wonder that this movie is so popular with the movie going public around the world.

Leonard Shelby wears expensive, tailored suits, drives a late model Jaguar sedan, but lives in cheap, anonymous motels, paying his way with thick wads of cash. Although he looks like a successful businessman, his only work is the pursuit of vengeance: tracking and punishing the man who raped and murdered his wife. The difficulty of locating his wife's killer is compounded by the fact that Leonard suffers from a rare, untreatable form of ‘amnesia'. Although he can recall details of life before his ‘accident' Leonard cannot remember what happened fifteen minutes ago, where he is, where he is going, or why.

Christopher Nolan has made one great (but confusing) movie. His style in directing and editing ‘Memento' is quite unique, as no movie has ever been made quite like it before. The story being told in a backward kind of motion makes the audience have to think hard about what they are watching. It also makes the audience feel for a guy like Leonard, whose condition only gets worse and worse as the movie goes on. I am almost 100% sure that Nolan and his brother Jonathan, made up this story in the realisation that it was meant to be confusing. What is also cleverly done by Nolan is the use of black and white and then colour shots. In my opinion, the variations in these shots are used so it confuses the audience even more.

Guy Pearce's role in ‘Memento' shows me why he is so successful in Hollywood today. Pearce plays Leonard Shelby, a man on the hunt for his wife's killer. The only problem is that Shelby is suffering from ‘anterior-grade amnesia', a disease that cannot be treated. With ‘Lenny', I feel the audience suffers partly the same condition as he does, and partly does not, as we can remember what has happened in the present.

Memento's other main stars include corrupt cop ‘Teddy' (Joe Pantoliano). A friend said of Pantoliano's performance in Memento, ‘he was perfect for the role of ‘Teddy', as he comes across as the mysterious bad guy'. I could not agree more. There is also the character of Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss) who is a lot like Teddy in her own way. What is similar about these characters is the way they use Leonard's condition to advantage their own situations.

Other characters include Sammy Jenkis (Stephen Tobolowsky), who is a victim we learn about from an old case when Leonard Shelby was an insurance investigator. There is Leonard's wife, Catherine (C.S.I.'s Jorja Fox) who is another fascinating character. Although we do not hear her say much, she is a vital part of this most confusing story. Add in the funny role of Burt (Mark Boone Jnr.), the motel clerk, who openly admits to Lenny that he is ripping him off, by giving him two rooms, but that he will not remember it happening anyway.

Yet in no way do any of the characters in ‘Memento' realise they are in a time reversed movie. I am sure that many of the performers would have had to read their scripts many times to understand what was happening from a cinematic point of view. But from an acting prospective, this would have been an easy experience to be part of. Memento also has some interesting devices to tell the story. The way Leonard tries to remember things in the present and the future, via notes tattoos and photographs, making them an important element within the movie. Without them, our hero would not be able to remember anything.

Nonetheless, memory is the most vital element in this movie, because without it, people are confused, isolated and abused, which is what happens to our ‘hero', Leonard. As Lenny mentions early on in the film, "Memory's unreliable ... Memory's not perfect. It's not even that good. Ask the police; eyewitness testimony is unreliable ... Memory can change the shape of a room or the colour of a car. It's an interpretation, not a record. Memories can be changed or distorted, and they're irrelevant if you have the facts." But it has to be ironic that Leonard is the one who narrates ‘Memento', when his recollections and memories of events are inaccurate and jaded. There are also some powerful scenes in ‘Memento'. The one ‘which sticks in my mind the most' has to be where Natalie abuses Leonard, calling his dead wife a ‘whore', snorting smartly ‘that you won't be even able to remember what I have said'.

So, if you watch this movie and it confuses you the first or even the second time, I can assure you that is how you are meant to feel, confused. If you hated watching ‘Memento' the way Christopher Nolan intended, then I can only recommend that you get a hold of the DVD and watch it in chronological order, as it will really help you. Memento also shows how bad ‘mental disease' patients can be abused by healthy people and what lengths sick patients will go to try and keep ‘sane'. Also, if a movie makes you think, then in some way it has been successful in doing something that many movies do not do – making you think. Those sorts of cinematic experiences are the ones that we need to cherish for life, as they are few and far between. Memento is one such experience.

CMRS gives ‘Memento': 5 (Brilliant Movie)

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