Memento is the type of film that leaves you astonished at the end—and wanting to watch it another time straight through. It might seem that film noir revolving around amnesia and revenge doesn’t seem particularly original or interesting, but writer and director Christopher Nolan follows these premises and achieves just that. The last thing the main character Leonard (Guy Pearce) can recall is his wife’s grisly murder and an injury that leaves him unable to form new memories. Thus he cannot tell if he is explaining his “condition” to someone for either the first or fiftieth time. In order to “learn” any new information (necessary for making progress towards solving his wife’s murder) he must somehow remind himself of every detail. He carries a Polaroid camera and scribbles notes on everything, including himself—he has the most important clues and facts tattooed on his body. By surrounding himself with these constant reminders, Leonard’s singular mission becomes to avenge his wife’s death.
Leonard does not know where he has come from or how long it has been since the murder, let alone how he comes to find himself in each certain place or situation. This is mirrored by the fact that the audience also lives only in the present, not knowing what happened just earlier: the movie’s scenes are shown in reverse order, with each ending where the previous began. Instead of waiting to see what happens next, we as the audience must see how such temporal clues as a broken window or a bruise came to be. In fact, the movie’s opening credits are shown over the final scene, leaving the entire movie to explain. It might sound complex to follow, but it will have you on the edge of your seat trying to work out a chain of events whose result you already know.
While many parts of this movie are not groundbreaking by themselves, Nolan crafts them into an intricate and beautiful puzzle of a movie. He knows the many established techniques and tenets of noir, thrillers, and the like well enough to have fun with them, and the result is a surprisingly original piece of work. Add in strong supporting roles by Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano, and it is no surprise to find Memento on many top 10 lists and with a pair of Oscar nominations (best editing and best screenplay). For anyone not afraid of a little suspense, this is a must-see.
If you like Memento you might also try Christopher Nolan’s other films: his black and white film noir debut Following, and Insomnia, a Hollywood remake of the Norwegian film by the same name.
This film is rated R for violence, language and some drug content.
Reviewed by Daniel