Top 20 Movie Memento (2000) ranks 10th in Matt Lynn Digital’s Top 20 Movies in ranked order listing. This gem as directed and co-written by Christopher Nolan joins with Interstellar (2014) as the second Nolan movie to be distinguished by a Matt Lynn Digital listing Top 20 ranking. Memento also is the first movie directed by Christopher Nolan to receive significant box office success.
Memento is the story of a guy named Leonard (played by Guy Pearce) lacking the ability to form new memories that is determined to get revenge for the death of his wife at all costs. Being as Leonard cannot recall anything, he takes to the memory aids of tattoos, Polaroid pictures, and handwritten notes to help provide contextual clues to guide his mission of vengeance. These coping mechanisms are, collectively, the central metaphor that viewers of the movie should take as the metaphoric mementos of Leonard’s mission of vengeance.
From the opening credits the film, the audience is introduced to the truly unique and non-linear storytelling methodology that served director and writer Christopher Nolan well in both Memento and Interstellar. With Memento, we see a Polaroid picture of a bloody murder scene becoming undeveloped, which is to say going from developed to the point where the picture first came from the camera. Remember that this movie came out in the year 2000, which was before Smartphones let you take digital photos with the ease that is customary today.
Memento then begins revealing itself reverse chronologically, in alternating scenes of color and black-and-white, wherein we see Leonard killing Teddy/John Edward Gammell in color and in reverse…that is, the scene is moving backwards. First we see Teddy’s glasses, then blood moving in the wrong direction, and then the gunshot moving backwards with Teddy’s glasses returning to his face. Teddy is played by actor Joe Pantoliano.
Moving reverse chronologically, the movie then movies on to the first of a few different black-and-white scenes in the movie, which mostly serve to offer perspective on the condition of Leonard, as Leonard experiences it. These scenes almost had a documentary feel in nature, by which I mean they explained Leonard’s behaviors, deficits, and coping strategies rather than moved the narrative of the psychological thriller along.
In the third scene of the movie, we moved back to color and into the scene immediately leading to the opening scene wherein Leonard kills Teddy. The scene moves more or less forward, though there the last bit of this scene is a direct reviewing of the scene that becomes the opening death of the movie. This setting up of the narrative, and the setting of both the unreliable narrator (Leonard) and the murder victim (Teddy) signaled the uniquely Nolan method of storytelling beautifully.
We later learn throughout this film that Leonard was seeking revenge for the death of his wife, as played by Jorja Fox. Carrie-Anne Moss plays Natalie, who plays a villainous role that ranks ahead of the villainy of Pantoliano’s Teddy. Also keep an eye out for Burt (as played by Mark Boone Junior) and Jimmy Grants (as played by Larry Holden). The real genius of the storytelling in this movie is its structure, how the story unfolds and lets us experience Leonard as he experiences his own story, and the plot twist we get at the end of the story in learning about Leonard what he cannot see for himself. That we further get to see a reality that portrays Leonard’s humanity, and the nature of his change through the eyes of Natalie, Teddy, Burt, and Jimmy is pure excellence.
My one complaint about the movie rests in the nature of how Leonard’s illness was drawn incorrectly. Memento aimed to explain Leonard with feeling, understanding, and a sense of getting into Leonard’s head without explicitly narrating this for us, and for this the movie deserves praise. In this process, the film gets some detail wrong. Yinnette Sano from Bryn Mawr College describes Leonard as suffering from anterograde amnesia, or “a selective memory deficit…[wherein]…the individual is severely impaired in learning new information.” The film’s emphasis that Leonard had no amnesia is wrong. Further, to suggest that Leonard might be struggling with remembering his identity, his character, and fundamentally who he was, does not ring true. The psychologically complex and emotionally messy part of Leonard, as distinct from the memory loss (aka anterograde amnesia), is fine for me.
Overall, Memento remains the breakout hit that has opened the door for other movies in the Nolan collection that I have truly enjoyed. On its own, Memento works well. Consider checking this movie out for yourself.
Matt – Sunday, April 2, 2017