Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)

“Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They’re just an interpretation, they’re not a record, and they’re irrelevant if you have the facts.”

Introduction

I can’t remember the first time I watched this. I think it was Uni – between 2002 and 2005. I didn’t own it. Having watched the film, I once bought the triple-disc version and then, upon trying it out in the DVD, found the disc was ruined. I brought it back and they had no other ones available so i got a refund. I never bought it in the end and i don’t intend to. It is one of those films people tell you,”you must watch it” as if it ranks next to Casablanca and The Godfather. It doesn’t rank that highly … and I doubt it would be in Top 10’s of 2000 … wouldn’t get into a Top 20 if it came out in 1999 (what a year that was!) but its worth a watch. One of those films I only wish Hitchcock could have watched and I ponder what he would have thought – a good yarn anyway, but I don’t think it is a ‘classic’. Like Dial M for Murder is a good Hitchcock but it is by no means his best. But, because I have been praising the back catalogue of Danny Boyle recently i thought I would rip apart a movie that, personally, I think some people like a little too much.
Opinion

So we have this completely non-linear storyline but not in any random sense of the word. The lead character, Lenny (Guy Pearce), has short-term memory-loss so we go back in time via the small segments of memory loss. While we do this, there is a running parrallel story shot in black and white which is in chronological order – opposed to the colour sequences that are, memory-segment-by-memory-segment, going back in time over the course of, say, a day. About twenty four hours … maybe a little more (he sleeps twice so … two days?). So, in this reversed-chronological colour strand we additionally see flashbacks to a guy called ‘Sammy Jenkins’ who is quite important…

That does make sense, but you may find that you need to watch the film to understand how the last paragraph makes sense. This construction of the story is a fascinating presentation – leading to a special-feature on some DVD’s to watch the film completely in chronological order or in the combination of non-linear strands – as intended. We know Lenny’s wife was murdered and he lost his memory in the process and he is on the hunt for the killer. We meet other characters also. Two characters who look remarkably like characters from Zion. No other than Cypher-Joe-Pantalioni and Trinity-Carrie-Ann-Moss playing Teddy and Natalie respectively.

As a fan of TV-series 24 it is perhaps not-surprising to note that this film was made a year before the TV-series as you begin to realise that in each segment, akin to each episode of 24, there is a little bit of action – in most cases ending with a cliffhanger – before moving on to the next bit. This keeps you constantly asking ‘eh? whats going on? woo hoo! action! drama! oh, phew, questions answered … [end of segement] … eh? whats going on?’ etc. So, poor old Guy Pearce has some really bad-luck getting himself involved in many little scraps. I am sure, anyone who initially had the idea for 24 could have watched this and seen the scope for how much action and drama and cliffhangers that can be put in place throughout a lots of sequences set over a short period of time. Nevertheless, this is a lot more personal and rough – as Lenny is on his own and has no CTU or FBI to assist him. The fact that he is alone means his trust in everyone else is jeopardized. This, I believe, is the crux – the real centrepoint – of the story. (While talking about 24 for the character Jack Bauer, that is his biggest issue: “you have to trust me!”)

People create stories, they look back on history to stregthen themselves – learn from paste mistakes to move forward. Lenny can’t learn from mistakes because he can’t remember them! Bless him. But, then again, some people ignore mistakes and problems of their past and move on – ultimately making the same mistakes. (SPOILER! As we find out that Lenny literally makes the same mistake, murder (a pretty big mistake the ol’ murder), again and again.)

Structurally, we have some great use of effects as, more often then not, some loud bang (on the door, phone ringing, car crash) or a little note recently written precedes or ends the reverse-chronological segments … that way we know where we are at the end of each section. But then, the music, is so slow … these long drawn out strings by David Julyan seem to want to imtate Bernard Herrman but seem to fall down to sound just boring.

To close, if its not bad enough that I have to accept how Lenny has no personality, I have to add to that the slow music. This could be so much faster but seems to drag on. Lenny’s monotone voice recounting the events in his memory “my god, remember Sammy Jenkins”. YES! I remember him. For Goodness sake. I have had long discussions with some people … you know who you are … about the choice of actor for Lenny. On the one hand he is such a boring protagonist (and you would think a tattoo-clad murderer would be quite interesting) and is the wrong actor to play such a role. On the other hand, he has – pretty-much – no memory so, obviously, thats how he feels. That is his outlook. So it adds to the realism. Its groundbreaking, thats for sure but I always feel when I watch this film that it could have been better -a little tweak here, a snag there would help. Its not either screenwriter Nolan or director Nolan’s fault, but it is somebodies … question is … whose fault?

[I think it is Guy Pearces fault… all that Neighbours training methinks]
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4 comments

  1. I agree that this film might be a tad over-hyped, but the way in which Nolan's story develops is nothing short of brilliant. I actually thought Guy Pearce was quite good. My main problem with the film is that with all of the jumping around, it is tough to get involved and be moved emotionally.

  2. Its that emotional stump which is problematic. Fact is, after that first watch, you are blown away by the questions it raises (“yeah, if I had short term memroy who would stop me doing that?”) and the twist ending which is wholly unexpected. Thing is, once you know all that, is there any reason to go back? Take Rashomon though really interesting in how it tells the tale, because you don't know who best to trust, you can watch it again and again, but you know in Memento he's been had, so no emotion means no long term appeal. I reckon.

  3. He He – I know who I am – and I have finally got round to replying here.

    Firstly, You argument against this film doesn't seem to get started in your article – you seem confused Mr Columb – you want to find reasons to dislike this film but you can't quite get to grips with them.

    I think this is one of the best films that I have seen because of two major reasons that you can't seem to come to terms with – style and content in perfect harmony. Funny that you should compare it to 24 – this is a show that has style – a neat little concicte as a USP, but the content is absolute meaningless dross.

    Memento is built around disorientating the viewer as much as Lenny is disorientated himself. So – the monotone performance (a confused man) the slow intense musice (building suspicion) the disjointed and difficult narrative (keep you guessing and building towards the twist). This is so bloody brilliant I don't understand the contention.

    Guy Pearce is a damn fine actor – I'm not sure what you mean by 'tatoo clad murderer' but what do you expect an action hero running about shooting people? He is a normal guy in a horrible situation – lonely, confused and desperate.

    Andrew – the contention that without the gimmick the film would be bland is ridiculous – the 'gimmick' is the film and the film is the 'gimmick' – it is like saying Jurassic Park wouldn't have done as well without the dinosaurs.

    The majority of films will, of course, be better the first time you watch them – especially where a twist is involved – I would suggest that Hitchcock is a prime example here Simon. However, the joy in repeated viewings is seeing exactly why and how you were duped and in seeing the reaction of someone else seeing this all play out for the first time.

    Oh my, what a film!

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