Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Mark Boone Junior, Stephen Tobolowsky
MPAA Rating: (for violence, language and some drug content)
Running Time: 1:53
Release Date: 3/16/01
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Review by Mark Dujsik
Films where you spend as much, if not more, time talking about the movie after it has finished have become a great rarity these days. Memento is an exhilarating experience. It is a brilliant triumph of storytelling. Considering the lack of completely developed characters, Memento ends up being all the more an achievement. It is one of those rare films where the lack of full character development does not dismiss its credibility or success and, in some ways, actually increases the filmís ultimate driveóthat of screenwriting and editing.
The major gimmick of Mementoís story is that it is told backwards. The opening scene is actually played in reverse, which automatically establishes the viewer in this mindset. The beginning of the movie is really the end of the movie and vice versa. The reasoning behind this device is that the main character Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) has short-term memory loss. The result is that we feel as confused as he is when each new scene begins. Leonard and the audience get hints through annotated photographs and tattoos that Leonard has placed in strategic places. While this may seem like an innovative idea for its own sake, it is a necessary decision for the film to work. Writer/director Christopher Nolan has not made a straight-forward thriller that needed a twist to be "original." The entire film rests on the idea that the beginning of Leonardís journey comes at the end. By the time we see how it begins, the opening scene, and indeed, the entire film take an entirely new perspectiveóone more shattering than can be expected.
However, the ending (or beginning) does not tie up all the loose ends. There are more questions at the end than there are answers. Are answering these questions important to understanding the film? Not at all. In fact, spending too much time analyzing the plot will lead to a major headache.
So what makes this gimmick more important than just a gimmick? Itís the experience of feeling as Leonard does. As each scene starts anew, we have no idea where we are on a timeline. This feeling leads to a strange connection to the hero. Leonard is searching for a man who raped and murdered his wife. Since he cannot remember anything that has happened after her death, he is living with a single purpose: revenge. It seems as though this need for revenge is an instinct of Leonardís, and this idea opens an interesting door into questioning the human condition. Are we a species that craves revengeófinds it instinctual? Or can we move past it? This question and its open-ended answer push Memento to a film that is about far more than a simple gimmick.
Since there is little time for developing too many characters, it is lucky that Nolan has assembled the cast he has. Carrie-Ann Moss plays Natalie, a bartender who will fit into Leonardís pursuit, and she shows a large leap in ability from her breakthrough performance in The Matrix. She brings believability to a character whose motives at times are uncertain. The always reliable Joe Pantoliano hits all the right notes with his portrayal of Teddy. He makes us trust him, even when we know there is something deceptive lying underneath. Pearce gives a tour de force performance as Leonard. Although the film does its best in making us connect with Leonard through its structure, it is Pearce who gives the film its human element. Without him, the movie would probably just be about the gimmick.
Memento takes a familiar story line and twists it around on itself. Thematically and structurally, it is similar to Steven Soderberghís overlooked revenge film The Limey. What these films have most in common though is not the way in which they freshen an old genre with slick editing and intricate plotting, but in the way they turn the genre on its ear and challenge human conventions about revenge and its ramifications. Memento is a completely engrossing experience that demands and deserves multiple viewings.
Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.