Volume 95, Issue 1
Thursday, May 24, 2001
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT||
Dark tale takes only a Momento
By Matt Pearson
It is possible to miss the opening scene of some films and still understand the entire work. Memento is not one such film.
Based on the short story by Jonathan Nolan, Memento explores the life of a man who is unable to create new memories following a harrowing incident in his life. Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) was a happily married insurance claims investigator who received a damaging blow to his skull after interrupting the brutal rape and assault of his wife.
Driven by a deep urge to avenge her murder, Leonard is compelled to find the killer. However, because of his short term memory loss, he must take Polaroid pictures, write little notes and tattoo himself with important details of his findings.
In the quest to find his wife's killer, Leonard befriends Teddy (Joe Pantoliano), a police officer who empathizes with him and wants to help. Leonard also meets Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss), a bartender whose drug dealer boyfriend has recently gone missing.
In his note to himself, Leonard writes Natalie will help him out of sympathy as she has lost someone too. Yet, because of his condition, Leonard can't keep track of who is helping him and who is trying to take advantage of him.
Leonard's story is carefully intertwined with the story of Sammy Jankis, a man he once knew with the same condition. Told in black and white vignettes, the story of Sammy's life is used to provide duality with that of Leonard's.
Unlike most films which unfold along a linear path, Memento plays out completely backwards – the end of the story is actually the movie's starting point. From that pivotal scene, the film unfolds in a careful backwards motion, slowly coming into focus with each subsequent development.
Director Christopher Nolan's brave narrative experiment draws the audience into the film and leaves no detail untouched. It's as if the audience experiences the same short term memory loss Leonard himself suffers – we only know as much as he knows and can never quite figure out the film until the final moment.
Guy Pearce (L.A. Confidential) delivers a compelling performance as the vengeful husband Leonard. Pantoliano and Moss (who appeared together in The Matrix) also turn in convincing performances as the two main supporting cast members. Although much of the dialogue works, there are awkward moments in the script and certain monologues seem to almost betray the director's otherwise subtle hand.
Memento is a fascinating film that transcends many cinematic conventions.
But like the poor couple who walked in ten minutes late soon realized,
it's a film which requires a complete viewing to be fully comprehended.
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