Today I bring to you another blast from the past, a film released in 2000 but which maintains, to this day, an incredible quality in all aspects. It is a Christopher Nolan movie, so that much is probably a given though.
Memento focuses around Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), a guy suffering from anterograde amnesia, who uses photographs and tattoos to hunt down the person he thinks killed his wife, which is the last thing he remembers.
There is much to appreciate about this film, from its premise to its approach to storytelling, its characters and how their storylines intersect, even its marketing. It’s one of those movies you can’t look away from, not only because if you miss something you risk not making sense of things, but because it’s so well made that you CAN’T look away.
The opening scene is fantastic in its execution, setting up the characters and the story despite the fact that it’s actually the last scene if you were to look at the story chronologically. This makes it incredibly climactic, and its end leaves you with an extreme anticipation for what’s next (or what was before) to explain why and how the characters ended up where they are. It plants suspicion in your mind from the get-go, it offers you clues to look out for, but it also sows doubt about our hero. It puts your mind on alert from the start, and for the rest of the movie, you’re sucked in.
Making the story fractured in this way, showing the end and then feeding the viewer the story backwards doesn’t work just to make the actual plot more interesting, but it enriches Lenny as well. Because of his memory problems, the struggle to remember his progress on the case and the details he’s managed to find out aren’t spelled out for us, but delivered to us in a way that forces us to FEEL it. We’re in as much of a blank as Lenny, with as much information about what came before as him. All we have to go on is the pictures he’s taken to help him place people and locations, and the multitude of tattoos with information about the killer.
This also makes us (and him) more distrustful of the people Lenny meets. How many of them are lying? Taking advantage? Although you’re made to suspect Teddy from the get-go, and the motel guy admits to his lies, your heightened wariness is still not going to pick up on some characters’ true selves, at least not until you’re shown the actual truth. With each new piece of the puzzle, the endgame makes more sense, and your mind gets an incredibly satisfying thrill from having to piece together the story, especially with every character being connected and driving the story in some way.
What’s really interesting to see is how characters change throughout the story. Because Lenny is technically our (unreliable) narrator, we see them through his limited perspective, and the more we learn about them, the more our feelings about them change. Our advantage over Lenny is that, unlike him, we don’t forget the rest of the puzzle, so as the story progresses (or regresses?), we’re left with more than what we started with, which is not something Lenny has the luxury of having too. We’re slowly detaching ourselves from Lenny, and once we stop depending on him to give us the facts, we start forming thoughts and theories of our own. Interactive cinema before it was cool.
To take a break from the main action (seemingly), you’re also privy to a story Lenny tells about a former acquaintance of his, Sammy. Although it feels unrelated and unimportant, Sammy’s story is the key, and you’re being told it is from the very beginning. Lenny’s hand tattoo about Sammy is a clear indicator that there’s more to this story than meets the eye, and, for spoilers’ sake, I won’t discuss it further, but I found it incredibly neat how it tied into everything. Truly brilliant.
I’m purposefully trying not to say too much because it honestly ruins the film if you go in with too much knowledge of what happens, at least first time around. I often recommend things here which I feel have a great rewatch value, and this one is no different though. The first experience depends on you being as much in the dark as you can, but the subsequent watches are amazing in their own way because, once you know what happens overall, you can allow yourself to see it play out with all your knowledge already at your disposal and spot more details than before. The experiences will differ, but they won’t lose the fun either way.
I also mentioned marketing before, because it’s something I feel really enriches the experience. Special limited edition DVDs have been released, designed as Lenny’s case file and including puzzles you have to solve to enjoy the extra content, as well as options to watch the film with the scenes in order. The idea makes watching this movie a whole lot more fun and interactive, and will definitely make it that much more memorable (heh) to you in the long run.
It might seem like a complicated watch. You put a movie on, chances are you’re spending more than half of it actually looking at your phone but with nice background noise, right? You want to chill. If you’re looking to work out your brain a bit and want a captivating story though, I recommend this from the bottom of my heart.
There’s a lot more I can say about this movie, but I try to keep these recs short, easy to read, and as spoiler-free as I can. All it comes down to is that I really really like this movie and find it an incredible watch, so do with that what you will.
As always, thank you for reading, and see you next time!