Some memories are best forgotten.
Memento is a 2001 psychological thriller film directed by Christopher Nolan, written by Suzanne and Jennifer Todd, produced by Summit Entertainment and Team Todd, and distributed by Newmarket. The film is based on the short story, Memento Mori by Jonathan Nolan. It stars Guy Pearce and Carrie-Anne Moss. The film was nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing. It did not win either. It has been selected for preservation by the National Film Registry.
"I have this condition." -Leonard Shelby
Leonard Shelby is searching for John G., the man who raped and murdered his wife. Although it may seem easy, Leonard has a hard time figuring out the culprit because of his mental disorder: he can't make new memories. Every time something happens, it just fades. As Leonard progresses through the investigation, he has to continue figuring out the same information, even though not every source is reliable.
You really have to invest in this movie. It takes a lot of energy, which does pay off, but I loved that Nolan used his movie to just suck all of your brain power out of you for 2 hours. The movie just totally turns all the rules of cinema on its head and throws them out the window. The movie is told backwards, there are two separate storylines, one of which is in black and white, and then the movie changes everything that you thought was going on with that final twist. It is absolutely crazy and so much fun to watch. It is a distinct and very unique movie that just shows how Christopher Nolan has made his mark on Hollywood.
Guy Pearce is Leonard Shelby. He just absolutely disappears into this role, and is totally believable with this condition. He makes sure that the audience feels exactly as confused and out of place as Leonard does inside of the movie. He immerses you in the story and adds to the mind-warping craziness of the film. The other actors, mainly Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano, act shady and suspicious enough where you know that you can't trust them.
And, of course, the twist works to absolute perfection. It is executed so well and puts a thread throughout the rest of the story. I do think that it is a little bit complex and could use some polishing to have the audience understand it a little bit better, but you get the general idea and it is jaw-dropping. It might not be The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense, but it's still up there with those guys.
The movie keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. Nolan does such a good job of making sure that his audience is invested throughout the entire runtime, and it is very evident in Memento. The backwards storytelling gives the audience a sense of wonder and neediness. This would be one of the hardest movies to turn off, no matter how much you like it. Sometimes I'll start movies and I'll have to stop them in the middle to watch the next day or something. I would never be able to do that with this film. It is crazy how great the suspense and intrigue is in this film. Everything eventually gets an explanation. Once a new element is introduced, you immediately want to know when, why, and how it happened.
I also like that they didn't include only one huge final reveal. There are tons of twists and turns and bumps in the road throughout that change the entire spectacle of the movie and turns everything on its head. I think that it was incredibly smart to have two different narrations: the black-and-white one and the real story. The connection at the end and the different things that happen in both narrations are so mind-blowing and fun to watch.
I also love the idea of using the polaroid pictures as the main storytelling device. It is very rare that a storytelling device that the audience uses is also the main point of reference for the main protagonist. It provides a different experience for the audience, which is obviously one of the objectives of Memento. I thought that the little notes on the pictures worked so well as you saw that not everything that Leonard wrote was reliable. It's great that the only thing that you can reference for important plot beats are written by a character who may not be fully sane.
I do think that the plot kind of lost me near the end. There was something with Natalie's boyfriend, Jimmy, and him being a drug dealer, and Teddy being the guy on the phone in the black-and-white sequences, yada yada yada. It all got pretty jumbled in the last twenty minutes or so, and it was really strange, because usually Nolan is very particular and gives a very minor detail the spotlight for a while so that the audience can digest it and understand what is still happening in the story. If there had been fifteen extra minutes in this movie, I would not be complaining. That'd give them time to flesh out the explanation for everything as well as everything else going on.
I also think that most people are either going to love this movie or absolutely despise it. If you want a sensical murder mystery that still has big reveals, but you can easily follow what's going on and you don't have to pay attention to literally every single thing that happens, go check out Knives Out or The Usual Suspects. Memento is a unique murder mystery that loves to mess with your mind and toy with your brain power. If you love watching other unique and distinct films, like Pulp Fiction or Fight Club, then you will love this. If you don't, then you probably won't like it as much.
Overall, this is a fantastic film and solidified Christopher Nolan into one of Hollywood's most respected and unique filmmakers. His first breakthrough film delivers something so original and new that it should provide a different experience for everyone watching it.
I will give it a Sweet rating. Age range is 13+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
Savory (Good) Sour (Bad) Moldy (Terrible)
Fun Factor: 9/10
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Rated R for moderate violence, language, and thematic elements
1 hour and 53 minutes
Released on March 16, 2001
Guy Pearce as Leonard Shelby
Carrie-Anne Moss as Natalie
Joe Pantoliano as Teddy
Mark Boone Junior as Burt
Jorja Fox as Leonard's Wife
Stephen Tobolowsky as Sammy Jankis
Callum Keith Rennie as Dodd
Harriet Sansom Harris as Sammy's Wife