Saturday, 2 April 2011

I always thought the joy of reading a book is not knowing what happens next.

No 173 - Memento
Director - Christopher Nolan

I know that I have waxed lyrical about Christopher Nolan before - but I do think he has a very impressive track record of creating intelligent (and financially successful) films - we need more directors to play that line between success and intelligence. After all the cinematic market is based around rehashing the same ideas (watch this INCREDIBLE video by Kirby Ferguson - then check out his incredible site), so any new ideas should be embraced and celebrated. This is a film that is going to be hard to describe without ruining it. And I really don't want to ruin it.... however, it is also a film full of joyous moments.

Whats more impressive is how simple these moments are - even the simplicity of opening the film with a death, in reverse, is a glorious, beautiful WTF moment.

The entire story is then told in snapshots, working backwards, to tell the story of how Leonard got to this point.
It is a clever concept and it works really well. Of course, it should go without saying that ALL IS NOT AS IT SEEMS!

What is interesting is that we have a film in which character arcs and standard progression are all subverted, the things that make use relate to a character, or enjoy a film, are twisted and turned. It's as if Nolan is deliberately mocking our need for identification with the fictional characters in front of us. Not only is the film told backwards (meaning we meet people at the end of their narrative arc and watch them regress rather than progress) - but the film's hero doesn't have an arc. He can never have an arc as he can't remember anything - therefore his character can hardly evolve.
the only exception to this is the story of Sammy Jankis (played by the wonderful Stephen Tobolowsky) who appears in flashbacks, and who's story is told in a linear pattern. Sammy's story has to make sense as he suffers the same illness as our hero. Understanding Sammy's condition means that we'll understand Leonard.

Leonard becomes even easier to understand when we realise that he has his entire motivation (hell, the entire film's plot) - inked onto his body.

These tattoos are constant reminders of what is happening and what he needs to do. I find this kind of thing fascinating. Using tattoos to help you form a plan - its like series 1 of Prison Break, before it tried to get bigger and weirder and not about the initial plan anymore:

What's really interesting, is how easy it is for these things to be distorted, to be manipulated. Leonard discusses the problem with memories:

Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They're just an interpretation, they're not a record, and they're irrelevant if you have the facts.

But he suffers from the exact same issue. If he can't remember, he relies on notes - and notes, whether on temporary and on paper or permanently scarred on your body, can be manipulated. That is probably the message at the heart of the film.

And on that note I best end. I won't talk about the happy Matrix reunion between Trinity and Cypher - or the glorious inclusion of Callum Keith Rennie - because I already fear I'm getting too close to spoiler territory.

So go watch it, and prepare to be surprised by some great revelations.

Then, once you've seen it, find the special feature that lets you watch it in chronological order, and prepare for one of the most hopeless examinations on the futility of progress and the hopelessness of life.


simoncolumb said...

I think, for all the good things in MEMENTO - and there are many - i always get frustrated with Guy Pearce's performance. And don't get me wrong - he is a great actor, but I simply don't like the character he plays. So dull...

I do think its a great film... but when you the film is hinged on one character then you want the character to be as intersting as possible and not so bored and monotone.


Captain James Amazing said...

The problem is that Leonard CAN'T be that exciting, that emotional - he is a character who can't evolve beyond a certain point.

He's trapped in a weird nightmare limbo.
So - it sort of makes sense that he stays this constant throughout

I think the thing that bugged me most, was that Leonard's memory loss seems very irregular. Sometimes he'd forget things instantly, othertimes they'd linger for ages.

Anonymous said...

I watched Memento once, only I started watching about 30 mins in, got completely drawn in, got to the 'end' only to learn....nothing because I'd missed the start.

I feared that the only hook the film has is that it is told in reverse but actually has a very thin story but your recommendation of watching it in reverse/chronological order allays that fear for me so I will revisit it.