“Memento” is a film that is imaginative and original. It does not follow a typical linear plot as the director and screenwriter have been brave enough to experiment. If you like strange and unusual movies, you’ll like “Memento.”An unusual, but possibly “artsy-fartsy” thriller starring Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Joe Pantoliano. Directed by Christopher Nolan.
"Is the film a masterpiece or an artsy-fartsy attempt at a masterpiece?"
WARNING - In order to review this film and discuss its meaning, I have to reveal the ending. So . . . if you don't want to know what happens in the end, please don't read this until after you have seen the film.
The basic premise is fairly simple, a premise that you probably have seen in many films: The protagonist’s wife was murdered, and he wants revenge against her murderer. This idea is fairly typical. The film also has the plot point that the protagonist can not remember who the murderer was, even though he witnessed the killing. But even this idea is not that strange as “Dark City” and many other films have this plot point.
What makes “Memento” different is its departure from the above mentioned standard plot. The protagonist, Leonard Shelby, has suffered a head injury and now has a short term memory that only lasts about five to fifteen minutes. (For example, there is a scene where he goes into the motel room of a man he wants to surprise. Leonard enters the room, goes into the bathroom to wait, sits on the toilet with a bottle of wine in his hand. When nothing happens for a minute or so, Leonard suddenly wonders why he is in the room. He can’t remember why he is there until he looks at his previously recorded notes telling him to go to that motel room to find the man.) In the movie, Leonard has to write lots of notes to himself because he wants to track down his wife’s killer, and, in order to remember what he is doing as he searches for this person, he has to write down notes and write people’s names on the back of Polaroids that he takes of them.
The structure of the film is very unusual. The story is told entirely from Leonard’s point of view, and begins at the end of the film. (However, this will not spoil the film, as you get the ending, but not the twist.)
The film moves in a series of small circles. In a scene, Leonard does something, and, within a few minutes, forgets what he did. Then we are given a scene that starts a little earlier than the previous scene and shows us what he forgot and how he got to the point where he forgot. Thus, the film is constantly backtracking five or ten minutes at a time. If you do not get on to this right away, the film can be confusing until you do understand the structure. (Unlike some films, however, this film does not spoon feed the information; you have to really pay attention to what is going on to follow the story.)
The acting is excellent. After seeing Pearce in “Rules of Engagement,” “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” and “L.A. Confidental,” I enjoyed seeing him playing a character like Leonard Shelby. It was also very refreshing to see Carrie-Anne Moss as a character different than those she played in “Red Planet” and “Matrix.” Joe Pantoliano was, as usual, a pleasure to watch.
The twist of the movie is brilliant. I had no clue about it so it was a fantastic surprise.
Even though I found this film interesting, daring, imaginative, and unusual, I have a few reservations about it. First, it is important to remember, that, just because an artist does work that is interesting, daring, imaginative, and unusual, it does not necessarily make what he did great artistic work. (Too many people confuse “artsy-fartsy” with great art.) However, this film could very well be destined to become an artistic masterpiece as many films that are rubbished by critics at first are later lauded by these same critics.) Secondly, because of the unusual twist and clever story line, I feel that this film could be presented in a linear fashion and still be considered interesting, daring, imaginative, and unusual,
without being confusing to some viewers.
This was a great film on DVD. However, the DVD has no special features. If you are the type of viewer that likes straight and normal linear stories, you may not like this film. However, if you are a film buff, you will find the film interesting, and even if you do not like it, you probably will put up with it to see where it is going. And you would probably want to see a full-length audio commentary to see what the hell the director was thinking. And, this commentary unfortunaely, is sadly lacking on the DVD."Memento" is a brave experiment. Whether it will be remembered as great art, or as a pathetic "artsy-fartsy" attempt at art, is yet to be seen.
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originally posted: 10/11/01 08:57:22