Film Commentary [4-5-01]
Film noir original - - Memento
Genre: Film noir/mystery
Grade = A+

In this independent film, Leonard Shelby (Guy Pierce - L.A. Confidential) has a serious problem. He received a blow to the head as he tried to save his wife from being raped and murdered. As a result, he now suffers from a rare neurological disorder called anteriograde amnesia that prevents him from creating any new memories. He literally cannot remember anything that has occurred after the assault for longer than 10 minutes. However, he’s not going to let that stop him from finding the man that raped and murdered his wife. He wants revenge and he’s going to get it.

In order to find the killer, Leonard has devised a complex system of notes, files and Polaroids as well as tattooing known clues to his body. He developed his techniques through skills honed as an insurance investigator in his pre-memory loss life. He takes pictures of everything and adds remarks to them, helping to identify people he now associates with and whom he hopes will lead him to the killer. These include Teddy (Joe Pantoliano - The Matrix), who you meet in the first scene getting his head blown off by Leonard and whose Polaroid states - DON”T BELIEVE HIS LIES. HE IS THE ONE. KILL HIM. Due to his memory loss, Leonard is only able believe himself and does the dirty deed. The other main character is the mysteriously Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss - also The Matrix) who seems to want to help Leonard with his revenge for her own reasons. Why Leonard blows Teddy’s head off is the film’s mystery. Was he the killer Leonard has been searching for, or is someone manipulating him into believing it?

Memento is not your usual film. In one of the most unconventional storytelling techniques used, the standard story narrative is literally thrown out the window. This ambitious second film by director Christorpher Nolan with the screenplay by his brother Jonathon, firmly crafts the story as it is told in retrograde. In other words, it begins at the end and ends at the beginning - completely backwards. Story evolves in a series of two to five minute snippets, each ending at where the previous scene began and roughly equal to Leonard’s attention span. Spinning throughout the film is a linear storyline narrative by Leonard as he relates his experience as an insurance investigator with a claim by a man who suffers an identical malady. Some may see this as a simple gimmick. It would be a gimmick if this were merely the film’s sole redeeming feature. However, this nonlinear film that possesses a stunning visual signature, and possesses a fascinating story with unique character traits and enough McGuffins and plot twists to fill five mysteries. Nolan even imbibes the film with humor as in one scene where he is suddenly in a footchase Leonard states "So what am I doing?" "I'm chasing this guy!" Then a bullet whizzes by his head. "No, he's chasing me!"

Guy Pierce hands in a strong performance as the perpetually questioning Leonard immersing himself in the role and emitting raw emotions. Joe Pantoliano is believably slimy and has a good career before and ahead as a villain. Moss manages to adeptly portray her character with chamaeleon grace.

Intelligent, suspenseful and intricately kaleidoscopic, this film was apparently too original to get a major distributor and now is playing solely at art houses across the country. Quite few people simply may not seem to ‘get’ this film. This is literally one of the most original films I have seen in decade. If it were told in a standard format, it would not be even a shade of its powerful storytelling. Finding something like this is why I love film. Screw Gladiator.

Watch the first 8 minutes here.

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