Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) is a man who suffers from anterograde amnesia from a knock to the head on the same night that his wife was killed. The affliction means that although he can remember things from before that night, he is unable to store any new information for more than just a couple of minutes. His lack of short term memory causes huge problems for Leonard, especially as he is in the middle of a man hunt to track down his wife’s killer. In his pursuit Leonard is aided or hindered (he’s not quite sure) by a man named Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) and a woman called Natalie (Carri-Anne Moss). All Leonard has to rely on are photos with notes written by himself and tattoos drawn all over his body which point to clues and reminders.
I shouldn’t be surprised that Memento is completely mad, difficult to follow and ingenious all at once as Director Christopher Nolan has since followed it up with the likes of Inception as well as his multi-billion dollar Dark Knight franchise. As twisted and confusing as Inception was though it has nothing on Memento which is presented in two separate but ultimately converging narratives. The first is filmed in black and white and is presented in a traditional linear way with scene following scene until the finale. The second and certainly more unique narrative strand is in colour and opens with the film’s finale before working its way back to the opening. The result is an incredibly complex and often frustrating plot which can leave you with more questions than answers.
One of the strengths of the unique non-linear storyline is that it allows the viewer to empathise with the central character in his search for justice and revenge. The audience is drip fed information and clues for close to two hours and it can feel exasperating at times but if you stick with it, as Leonard does himself, you’ll get your answer. Probably. I have to be honest, there are parts of the plot which I’m still confused about and little details here and there have probably passed me by but on the whole the end result is clear after just one viewing. There are plenty of twists and although I worked a lot of them out, the results were still very satisfying. I wish I hadn’t been able to work out a couple of them though but I’m unable to switch off in a film like this. I always want to figure out what is going to happen before it does. Perhaps this is what Nolan intended when creating the film as the audience is playing the detective role every bit as much as Leonard is.
Although I think Memento is a fantastic cinematic experience and visionary film making the sheer amount of chopping and changing, back and forth became tiresome at times and if not for the fascinating storyline and illness involved I fear I may have got bored. I do think however that it is a film which merits a second or third viewing as you may be able to greater appreciate the deception, lies, perception and grief that the film presents. On my first viewing some of that was lost on me as I was spending much more time trying to figure out what was going on and who was playing who. There are three very poker faced performances in the movie which really help to conceal who is doing what and why. Guy Pearce is great as the man who knew too
much little. He plays his role with worthy
determination but also conveys his lack of memory with wonderful accuracy with
sometimes funny but often saddening consequences. He is a likeable guy so it’s
hard to see him get ripped off or used by people. Both Joe Pantoliano and Carri-Anne
Moss are superb too with each showing enough of both sides so that you don’t
know who to trust or when, often until it is too late. Unfortunately though one
of the twists I was able to work out involved one of those two characters which
was a shame because when the twist came, it lacked the punch it might have had
Another strength of the film is the editing. It’s unsurprising that Memento was nominated for an Oscar in that category as the editing process must have been incredibly complex and mistakes in that room could have had huge repercussions for the final piece. Luckily for the viewer the editing is wonderful and both aid the film’s confusion and bring it altogether neatly. Wally Pfister’s cinematography is also very good and creates a neo-Noire feel in the bright but grimy colour sequences which mix well with the grainy black and white sections.
Overall despite a confusing plot and a couple of easy to guess twists, Memento is a quite incredible film which uses unique methods to convey a storyline that is both fascinating and touching. It’s the sort of film that could only be made once and in that one attempt, Christopher Nolan has delivered a near masterpiece.