Memento — The Freshmaker

11-Nov-08 3:30 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 2 comments.

With Chris Nolan in the news for having directed the summer blockbuster The Dark Knight, I thought it time to finally see the film for which he was previously best known: Memento.

Given that I've been hearing about this movie since its 2000 release, I imagine its plot and devices are fairly well known by now. I knew about two of them: a man (Guy Pearce of L.A. Confidental; The Count of Monte Cristo; The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) is trying to find whoever killed his wife; and the film plays backward. What I didn't know is that the incident that saw his wife murdered also caused him brain damage, resulting in anterograde amnesia — a rare disorder that prevents a person from transcribing short-term memories into long-term (as seen in Clean Slate). Our hero can't remember beyond the last few minutes, which he works around by taking notes and photographs and learning to trust his own handwriting.

"Have you seen my car?"

"Have you seen my car?"

Some critics call the film's chronology a hackneyed device, but even eight years after its release, I'd never seen it anything like it. The movie starts at the end and plays in chronological order the last five minutes of a day in the life of Leonard Shelby. We then see the five minutes that preceded that sequence, and the five before that, until we get to the beginning. Each chunk of time is about how long Leonard's memory lasts, though interspersed in these sequences is a forward-progressing, black-and-white, narrative flashback. It reminds me of how Billy Crystal's character in When Harry Met Sally would always skip to last page of a book to see how it ends, then read the rest to solve the mystery of how the characters get there. We the audience think we know what's going on because we're introduced to the characters and their fates before Leonard is — but it's the genesis of these situations that prove to have more impact than their consequences.

It's an engaging film made more so by great casting. Guy Pearce is remarkably calm (and occasionally didactic) for someone in his situation, yet his performance has been called "the most accurate portrayal of the different memory systems in the popular media." Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix; Fido) and Joey Pantoliano (The Matrix; The Sopranos; Daredevil) are fantastic as supporting cast members who leave both Leonard and viewers wondering if they are truly friend or foe. It was a sufficiently intense film so as to distract from the RiffTrax version.

Memento reminded me of a lot of my favorite media: Quantum Leap and Sam's swiss-cheese memory; the comic strip For Better or Worse's recent decision to retreat from the present to the past; the danger of amnesia in Déjà Vu. We need more media like Memento and Braid that's willing to be unconstrained by the dimension of time — not just because of the challenge it presents its audience, but because of the fresh experiences it allows filmmakers to offer.