Directed by Christopher Nolan
Review by Evelyn Gildrie-Voyles <firstname.lastname@example.org>
See this film. Yes, it's depressing; yes, it's disorienting; yes, parts of the film are deliberately unclear; and yes, some people won't like it. It doesn't matter. Everyone should see this film. Just don't see it alone. You'll need someone to talk to immediately afterwards; to puzzle it out, to discuss, to provide a support group. I can't stop thinking about this movie. It kept me up all night after I saw it. It may not have changed my life, but it will haunt me for some time to come.
Guy Pearce plays Leonard Shelby, a former insurance fraud investigator who woke up in the night to find his wife raped, wrapped in the shower curtain, and dying on the bathroom floor. He is now tracking his wife's rapist and killer, a man he calls John G. During his investigation he seeks help from two people who claim to be his friends, Teddy (John Pantoliano) and Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss). It may sound like a typical thriller, but Shelby suffered a traumatic head wound while interrupting the attack on his wife and now has no short term memory. The last thing he fully remembers is his wife dying. He can make no new memories; instead he relies on Polaroid snapshots, notes, and body tattoos to construct the present.
The narrative structure is original and compelling. The movie contains two interlocking time lines. The primary time line proceeds backwards chronologically and presents a series of scenes from Shelby's point of view. Each of these scenes starts with him figuring out where he is and what he is doing and ends with him forgetting. As the film goes on the audience slowly learns what Shelby has forgotten and keeps forgetting over and over. The other time line proceeds forward and presents a series of contiguous scenes from a relatively objective point of view. Sound confusing? It is. It is also highly effective.
The real star of this movie is writer/director Christopher Nolan, but the actors all offer stellar performances. Other reviewers have heaped well-deserved praise on the big three (Pearce, Moss, and Pantoliano), so I want to focus on some of the smaller roles. Stephen Tobolowsky and Harriet Sansom Harris are emotionally rending as Mr. And Mrs. Jankis. Jorja Fox as Leonard's wife has just a few moments to make the audience love her, and she succeeds. Mark Boone Junior adds some nice light comic relief as Burt, the hotel clerk.
Part of this film's triumph is that as well as being depressing and mind boggling, it is also at times gently funny and genuinely sweet, which of course makes the ending all the more sad.
Enough. Go see it.
Editor's Note (May 15, 2001): The whole regular staff of FilmHead.com has now seen Memento, and we were all agog at its brilliance. It is by far the best film that has come out all year. Whatever you are doing right now, it is not more important that going to see Memento. Oh, wait. You're reading FilmHead.com. Please fell free to continue perusing the site, purchase a few select items, and then run out with whatever money you have left and watch this film. Sneak in if you have to. If you live in Kansas, take the first flight to New York or Chicago or wherever it's playing. You will not be disappointed.
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