Starring: Guy Pierce, Carrie-Ann Moss, and Joe Pantoliano
Run Time: 1 hr. 53 mins.
Plot Synopsis: Memento chronicles two separate stories of Leonard, an ex-insurance investigator who can no longer build new memories, as he attempts to find the murderer of his wife, which is the last thing he remembers. One story line moves forward in time while the other tells the story backwards, revealing more each time.
<Contains Mild Spoilers>
Memento is the brilliant yet confusing story about a man named Leonard who has no short term memory, an ailment that prevents him from making new memories. The story is often referred to as a memory inside a memory, told through the eyes of the protagonist over the course of flashbacks. While the story may be confusing, and ultimately difficult to understand after the first viewing, this film is sheer brilliance. Director Christopher Nolan, who is now best known for directing the resurrection of the Batman franchise but should be known for this film, tells this story in reverse chronological order to confuse and bewilder the audience. He states it is to put the viewer in the shoes of Leonard and experience what he is going through. If you have never seen this movie, hopefully this review will inspire you to pick this up. If you have, but did not understand it, hopefully this review will help to guide you through it all again in an effort to help you better understand the story. If you have seen it and understood it, hopefully this review will spur you to watch this again. Make no mistake about it, this film comes with my highest recommendation.
The movie essentially follows Leonard throughout his attempt to “avenge his wife’s death at the hands of burglars who broke into their home.” These same burglars are responsible for Leonard’s “condition.” It all starts with a sequence showing Leonard killing the man he believes is his wife’s murderer. The rest of the film tells the story of how Leonard got to this point through a series of beautiful flashbacks done in both color AND in black and white. Throughout the story, Leonard encounters people that appear to only want to help him. But Leonard cannot remember anything after the events of that fateful night when his wife died. In order to help him keep track of the “facts” he uncovers during his quest, Leonard takes Polaroid photos of the people/places/things he encounters and writes his thoughts about the subjects of the pictures down on the bottom or back of the picture. He also keeps a file/journal full of “police reports” and notes he has written to himself. He keeps track of the most important facts by getting them tattooed onto his body so that he will never lose them. He will always remember these “facts.”
Another key aspect of the film that you should pay attention to is Leonard’s continuing story about Sammy Jankins. Leonard says Jankis was a man who claimed to suffer from short-term memory loss or anterograde amnesia. Any new memories and experiences are forgotten within a few minutes. Sound familiar? Without giving away too much of the plot, Sammy Jankins’ story is an integral part of Nolan’s twisted tale of revenge.
The way this story is told is part of what makes Memento so amazing. The flashbacks are like taking one step backward. Each time you see a new part of the story, and the events leading up to the point where the flashbacks begin, and then it starts over. Sammy Jankins story is slowly told in between the flashback sequences, as well as the story of his wife’s death. Yes, this can be confusing. As the story unfolds and you begin to see the bigger picture, you will find yourself in awe of it all. I watched this film twice before completely understanding the entire plot of the film. I watched this two more times before I could see the bigger picture, before I could appreciate this film for what it was, a work of art. This movie is Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece. A film that is mesmerizing, captivating and confusing. As frustrating as all of this seems to be, it is not. The first viewing will blow you away, and leave you with an uncontrollable desire to watch again and again until you completely understand.
The acting in this film is nothing short of amazing. Guy Pierce delivers a quality performance as Leonard Shelby, the man with no short term memory. It is a character that even the most accomplished actors could find difficult. But Pierce plays the part well. The character appears to be a sympathetic character, while also coming off as crazed, indifferent, and angry at the world. All of this is certainly understandable given the circumstances of the character, nevertheless, it is difficult for an actor to believably portray all of those characteristics. Guy Pierce played the part to perfection. The supporting characters, played by Carrie-Ann Moss and Joe Pantoliano, also deliver convincing performances. The characters themselves are difficult to read. You find yourself questioning both of them, trying to figure out each one’s true motivations for helping Leonard. But you can’t. The characters can seem very nice, and equally wicked and shady. You won’t guess what’s really going on in this film, I assure you.
Ultimately what this all comes down to is that Memento is a beautifully told story which is presented to the audience in a completely original way. Solid acting and compelling drama throughout, with an ending that will leave you shocked. Not only do I recommend that you watch the film, but I recommend that you both buy it and watch it multiple times. It is that good. You will thoroughly enjoy it.
I purchased the 2 disc Limited Edition of the film, and this is the version I would recommend to you. The special features alone are worthy of your money. For anyone who has seen Memento, and even people who own the film, if you haven’t checked out the Limited Edition you really should. The DVD menus can be frustrating and confusing to navigate, much like the film, but taking a look at the way the film is presented on this 2 disc set will change the way you think about this film. Here is a list of the amazing special features: A Chronological Presentation (An illuminating re-edit of the film that allows for new appreciation for Memento’s structure), Anatomy of a Scene (A 25-minute full-frame documentary originally aired on the Sundance Channel), The Director’s Script (view the entire annotated shooting script as the film plays), Memento Mori (The original short story by Jonathan Nolan), Production Stills and Sketches Gallery, Props Gallery, an International Poster Art Gallery, a Concept Art Gallery, a Bootleg Cover Art Gallery, the Journal (Pages from Leonard’s journal), a Menu of Supplements, and DVD Credits. All of which are very cool. This is one DVD set that you must add to your collection!