Memento (2001) Director: Christopher Nolan
The idea for Memento came as a screenplay idea to Jonathan Nolan, brother of Christopher Nolan, developed while moving cross-country from Chicago to Los Angeles, with the lead character loosely based upon Jonathan’s screenwriting professor a Georgetown. The pair –Christopher and Jonathan– have since become a legendary cinematic duo. Memento is the second feature film directed by Christopher Nolan, the first being self-funded called Following (1998).
Guy Pearce stars in Memento as a man named Leonard Shelby suffering from acute amnesia, in which he can only remember things that have occurred within the last five minutes. In a brilliantly framed and fragmented narrative, he uses a collection of photographs and tattoos to trace his own history and arrive at the man who killed his wife. Throughout the whole film the audience is left guessing. Who can we trust? Do we trust an undercover officer? Can we trust the main character? Is reliable? Are his clues authentic? What about the people he meets? The story is cleverly told through a dual narrative scheme -one, a black and white series of flashbacks told backwards; the other in color which unfold in the present moment. Eventually the two meet up in the end. We learn in the end that a dirty cop named Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) has been using Shelby to kill off a string of “John G.” character but as the film closes Shelby leaves a memento to himself to kill Teddy.
Memento has been cited by leading scientists as an accurate portrayal of amnesia. Each scene begins en media res, and we have no context, much like the main character who is bewildered from scene to scene. It is a jarring effect which leaves the audience wondering what has been accomplished? Perhaps we glean a deeper sense of disorientation, something only cinematography can offer to those of us fortunate enough not to suffer from amnesia.
Memento is a curious film and I am not entirely sure what to do with it. It is a gritty, neo-noir, mystery film in the vein of Hitchcock. Perhaps the biggest plot-hole in the film is that the main character can remember nothing after the death of his wife, so how can he remember he has short-term memory loss? Still a terrific film by one of the greatest modern directors.