Runtime: 1 Hour
and 53 Minutes
"Memento" is a movie about memory and loss. It is sometimes
poignant, sometimes alarming, sometimes creepy and sometimes even
quite funny. It is also the biggest mindfuck of a movie to come down
the pike since "Total Recall". You may find yourselves watching
the film over and over again when it comes to home video not so much
because you liked it so much but more because you wanted to figure
It is also, for the most part, revolutionary filmmaking. It begins
at the end of the story and then traces how the whole affair got there.
I have read that this method was used once before: in the movie "Betrayal"
based on a play by Harold Pinter. But for most of us, this is the
first time we have seen it done. It has the same sense of playful
experimentation as movies like "Groundhog Day" and "Pulp
Fiction". Even taking into account the film's few flaws,
it is impossible not to be fascinated by it and to sit on the edge
of your seat, intrigued and sometimes frustrated and wondering what
the hell will happen next.
The film is the story of Leonard (Guy Pearce): a man whose wife has
been raped and murdered and he has been consumed with the desire to
find the killer ever since. He has also been plagued by short term
memory loss as a result of the whole experience. He can remember things
for only a short period of time (it seems to change depending on what
the movie wants to do in any given scene) and must, therefore, write
down everything he wants to remember. The really important stuff he
has tattooed on his own body: the only thing he is reasonably certain
not to lose. His only accomplices on his quest for revenge are a mysterious
man named Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) and a mysterious bartender whose
motives are shady (Carrie Anne Moss). The appearance of these two
in both this film and "The Matrix"
shows an exemplary talent for searching out something new and unusual.
"Memento" has a great number of strengths. The structuring
of the film, for one thing, is quite brilliant. By showing the film
in reverse order, the film gives us the same experience as the main
character has. We must really be alert, must really be thinking, in
order to piece everything together and remember the sequence of events.
I was really paying attention, and I was still pretty lost much of
the time. I am not even sure now, so many hours later, that I know
how it all fits together. This is both a good thing and a bad one.
It's not often you see a movie that is so different and so unique
that it's both invigorating and frustrating. That is both a compliment
to the film and a backhanded insult.
The performances are very good as well. Guy Pearce is remarkable as
Leonard: mysterious, vulnerable, tragic and twisted in some ways.
Why this guy isn't used more often is a mystery to me. I also thought
Joe and Carrie Anne were excellent in their roles, for much the same
reasons as Guy. But I really want to congratulate Stephen Tobolowsky
and Harriet Sansom Harris as a couple struggling (in Leonard's flashbacks)
with the same malady as Leonard.
Their story is so compelling that it's almost more interesting than
the main one.
But, as I said, the structure and strength of the film is also its
weakness to an extent. On further inspection, I have spotted what
I think are several plot holes. Such as: when Leonard is driving somewhere,
he never makes a note where he is going. Wouldn't that be crucial
for a man who forgets what happened two minutes ago? Another thing
I spotted: if he can't remember anything since his wife's death, how
can he remember that he has short term memory loss? Then again, maybe
he's just faking....? Who knows. I don't. If I ever see the director
and screenwriter of the film (Christopher Nolan) I shall grill him
for hours on the details and let you know. It does make you think,
however. Long and hard.
But you should definitely go see it. After all, I can safely say that
you have never seen anything like it before. Not as far as I can remember.
What were you doing five minutes ago? Do you remember? Honestly. Beyond
a shadow of a doubt, do you remember what you were doing a mere five
minutes ago? Chances are, you do. Let's take a step further back in
time. Do you remember what you were doing an hour ago? If so, do you
remember why you were doing it. Chances are you don't. Memory can be
a funny thing. It helps us remember the most trivial of moments
from years long since past, but evades when we attempt to remember moments
of the same significance from mere hours before. Memory is the subject
matter of "Memento". It makes memory it's tool, blurring the
lines between fabrication and reality until we can no longer discern
one from the other.
I asked a lot of questions to open this review, because that is all
that "Memento" is: One long string of questions that are eventually
answered whether you knew enough to ask the questions in the first place
or not. No stone is left unturned. Scenes end where the previous
one began. You have never, ever seen anything like "Memento"
before and chances are you never will again.
The best way one could describe "Memento" is to describe it
in nothing more than one simple, yet complex, phrase: The beginning
is the end is the beginning. To explain. The film begins with what we
all would suspect, from our years of movie viewing experience, is the
end, hence the beginning is the end. But it is also the beginning of
the film and it will lead us to the end of the film as we traditionally
think of it, hence the end is the beginning. Confused yet? Intrigued?
Confusion and intrigue are ingredients that become staples of your viewing
diet as the story gives you answers that lead to more questions and
so on and so forth. Don't blink or you may miss something. This is definitely
not a film to take a bathroom break during. You will return even more
disoriented than those who have remained immersed in the film while
you have been answering the call of your bladder.
A word of advice. If nature calls..... Put it on hold, because
you don't want to miss any of this richly told story.
The story revolves around a man named Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce). Leonard
has a problem. He has no short term memory. This may not sound like
much of anything, but think about this. Pretend for a moment that you
can't remember anything that happened more than five minutes ago. Now
let's say we're at the grocery store for fifteen minutes. You come outside
only to find that you don't know which car is yours. Sucks, huh? How
would you solve this problem? After a lot of head scratching and spoiled
milk you would probably come across the idea of taking a picture of
your car, so that you will remember it the next time you go shopping.
This is what Leonard does. Only he doesn't just take pictures of his
car, but rather everything that is of any importance to his life, as
he sees it, at that given moment. People he meets, the place he stays
at and yes, the car fall prey to the gaze of his trusty Polaroid camera.
For details of his life that are far to important to risk being lost,
he inscribes them on the only thing he knows he won't lose: his skin.
But would anyone really go to all this trouble just to make it through
a normal purposeless life? Surely there is a method to his madness?
There most certainly is and it is definitely a reason to go to all this
Something terrible happened to Leonard to make him this way. To make
him lose his memory. As a curious side effect of his condition, he can
remember everything about his life before the incident, but he has no
memories of anything that happened afterwards, hence the Polaroids and
tattoos. The last thing he can remember is finding his wife raped and
murdered on the floor of their bathroom. This is what drives him. He
has to find the man who is responsible for this terrible act and arrange
for his one way trip from this world. Maybe then he can have his memory
back and maybe not. That is the driving force in his life. To rectify
the two most important parts of his life that were so viciously taken
from him. He can't bring his wife back, but he surely can avenge her
death and through this vengeance he may be able to avenge the death
of his memory.
"Memento" is a film that could very easily have fallen on
it's face. It doesn't for one very important reason. It remains devoted
to it's premise at all times. The premise being that it's lead actor
can't remember anything. The film has given itself some strict rules
and it abides by them dutifully without fail (Well maybe it slips once,
but it's so miniscule that it borders on being overly nitpicky to fault
the film for it). The film tells it's story in an amazingly creative
way. It begins and ends at the same time and ends and begins at the
same time. How the hell is this possible you ask? Without giving to
much away I will only say that there are two parallel stories about
the same man that are interwoven throughout the film that culminate
in the middle, or as traditional films would describe it: the end.
That's all I'm telling you, for to say anymore would be immoral and
damnable on my part. This film is complex beyond complexity's wildest
dreams. If you thought "The Sixth
Sense", "The Usual
Suspects", or "Fight Club"
were complex in design and resolution, think again.
Those films are all child's play compared to "Memento".
"Memento" is anchored by a brilliant performance from Guy
Pearce ("L.A. Confidential")
in the role of Leonard Shelby, as well as by the brilliant direction
of Christopher Nolan and let us not forget the magic that took place
in the editing room. All of these factors combine in ways you cannot
possibly imagine a result for when, in the opening minutes, you see
a Polaroid go from being exposed to unexposed and a murder going from
committed to unthought of. You are immediately immersed and will remain
that way for nearly two hours.
All the while asking questions like: Who is Dodd? Why is that gun there?
Who is Natalie?
Who beat her up? Why is the car window broken? Who is Teddy? Why is
he always around? The answers will come, but you will never know the
difference between the right and wrong answers until the very end, no
matter how astute one thinks they are.
I still have goosebumps......Incredible.
What are you doing right now? I know you're reading my review. Let me
What are you doing after you're done reading this review? Does it really
matter? Will you really remember whatever it is you choose to do tomorrow,
or the next day? Whatever you had planned next no longer has any meaning.
It is just the beginning of another lost memory.
If you want to begin something that you will remember years from now,
you will stop what you're doing, you will get in your car and you will
drive to a theater that is showing "Memento" right this moment.
You will do this for one simple reason.
You will do this, because you will want to remember when it was that
you saw the best film released in the United States in the year
2001 and why it was that you went in the first place.