Monday, September 13, 2010

Modern Classic Review: Memento (by Dave Machado)

Memento is a movie I had some reservations about reviewing. It leaves the viewer with a lot to ponder and I wasn't sure I had a strong enough grip on what the movie was really saying. I felt the same way regarding Christopher Nolan's latest movie Inception and only after seeing it twice did I feel confident enough to share my thoughts (which can be read here). So I decided to give Memento another viewing, as I hoped this may answer some of the questions I was still grappling with since I first saw it. Luckily the movie held up perfectly and I can now say without a doubt that it is a true classic and something that I believe people will be revisiting for years to come.

Memento is a fascinating movie with a very unique structure that allowed it to gain extra recognition when it was initially released. It tells the tale of Leonard (played by Guy Pearce), a man who after suffering a traumatic injury, has lost the ability to create new memories. His unfortunate last memory is seeing his wife die at the hands of the same man who attacked him, leaving him with this life-ruining disorder. His only goal in life now is to find and kill the man responsible for the crime so he can give the justice he feels is deserved. However, due to his condition, he has to resort to using Polaroid pictures and tattooed writings on his body in order to remember the clues he has found thus far. The movie is told in reverse order, slowly peeling back each scene in order for you to learn what Leonard does not know, the recent past. Every scene is filled with little riddles and the scene following it will set out to solve those riddles by showing you chronologically the scene that came before it. It's all very interesting because it changes your perception of the movie in every scene. Each scene causes what you've viewed before it to be seen in a new light, leading all the way up to the finale, which puts a new spin on everything you've witnessed up until that point.

Nolan likes to view his films as magic tricks being performed for the viewer, with the final act showing some grand reveal. This can be seen most literally in The Prestige but is an accurate statement for Memento as well. One thing about a magic trick is that not only should it astound the spectator, it should also hold up on repeat viewings. During the setup, a magician tries to distract you from something else so you won't realize how he pulled off the illusion. A great magician is not only able to achieve this for first time viewers, but is able to keep his methods so hidden that even returning audience members will still have no option but to be amazed again at the finale. Even if you try and pay close attention, you can't figure out how the magician is doing that trick so effortlessly and no matter how many times you see it, it always leaves you satisfied. Memento is Nolan's great magic trick.

One of the things that Memento left me thinking of the most is how much we take our memory for granted. I never really questioned my ability to always remember how I got from point A to point B but after seeing how a person's memory can turn on them really blew me away. There is a scene in Memento where Leonard discusses the usefulness of facts versus memory. He's telling the character Teddy (played by Joe Pantoliano, who it's worth noting is the person Leonard kills in the opening shot) how he goes on things like his Polaroids and tattoos because those, unlike memories, are the things that can be trusted. This ends up being a very important speech because as the movie progresses, it makes you question whether someone can take anything as a fact if they don't remember how they initially came to learn that piece of information. Could someone even trust their own writings if they had no idea how something was written in the first place?

I'm surprised it took me this long to see Memento. I think I was intimidated by the gimmick used to tell the story and was afraid I'd find myself easily confused and not able to follow the story. That was poor judgement on my part because in the end, Memento is a fairly easy movie to follow. During the runtime of the movie, I never once felt lost or confused. Sure, there were questions that I had, but Nolan does an excellent job of answering the key questions related to the plot by the time the credits roll. However, because the ending changes up how the rest of the movie is viewed, I think it takes a second viewing to really grasp how profound the story is. Luckily, Nolan is such a great filmmaker, that even when you know the ending of the trick, its a joy just watching the setup.

You're Welcome,

1 comment:

  1. Now your homework is to watch 'Following'. I might even enjoy that Christopher Nolan flick more than Memento, probably because most of the public have no idea it even exists.