For a long time I have admired many of the more experimental filmmakers. Those who are willing to take a chance and tell a story in a different manner than the usual. Memento is one of these films where the method of telling of the story is as important as the story itself. The story is basically told backwards. The film starts with a man waving a polaroid picture. As he waves it the picture doesnt develop, it disappears. The scene continues to show this man shoot and kill another man. The next scene shows how these two men came to be at this spot. Each scene on this film runs in forward time but covers a time in the story previous to the scene that was just shown. The story looks at the life of a man named Leonard (Guy Pearce). He has a condition that makes it impossible for him to form new memories. As another character tells him you can have a massive argument with him and be friends within the next ten minutes. Leonard is looking for the man that raped and killed his wife. In order to allow him to do this he carries a number of polaroids with notes scrawled on the back, post-its and even tattoos on his body to remind him of what he has discovered. Leonard finds one person that always seems to be reintroducing himself, Teddy (Joe Pantoliano). He may be a cop but Leonards photo states, Dont believe his lies. This is the quagmire that Leonard finds himself in constantly, his only connections to people and places are these little notes and his ever-growing pallet of tattoos. Then there is the woman Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss), she seems to want to help Leonard but he cant be sure of her motives. This films original approach to a mystery drives this film to a place in the genre that it could not hold with its typical man seeking revenge plot.
The film is basically Leonards interaction with Teddy and Natalie. As such, the may Pearce, Pantaliano and Moss play off each other is critical. Fortunately, it works. Pearce plays Leonard with passion balanced with a confusion that sells the part. His performance offsets the initially confusing manner the story is presented forcing the audience to want to keep watching. With such as experimental presentation this involvement is a must. Pearce is capable of making us believe he lives in the moment but gives just enough hints that there is something else buried in his motives. Pantaliano is, as usual, brilliant. Often type casting works against an actor but here we are so used to his playing characters of dubious motives that we wonder throughout the film if he is telling the truth or not. He is one of those actors that makes powerful presence on screen with only a few words or the way he holds himself. Moss is a lot different than we saw in the Matrix. As the film goes on we see sides to her that she is willing to show Leonard knowing he will forget anything she may say. He involvement was not really clear the first time through the film. Watching the film several times is necessary to fully appreciate her character and her performance.
Director Christopher Nolan is like many independent filmmakers, he scripted this film as well as directed it. Nolan has a lot of vision to bring to the plate here. A studio not willing to take a chance on something different does not limit him. Nolan is not just going off in a different direction here, he has a strong directorial style to back it up. The scenes are short and too the point, reflective of the short memory span the main character possesses. Even the camera angles are deceptive, showing only what we are to see and changing in the next scene to reveal something else. It reminded me of Pollacks use of lens in the Prince of the City, distorting reality. Nolan is certainly a talented director and writer that bears watching in the coming years.
DVDs have become know for providing the audience with more than they could get at the theaters. Here, the features are integrated more completely into the mystery than any DVD I have yet to see. Among the features are a look at the tattoos Leonard wears. There is also a newspaper article with many words clickable bringing you to hospital records, dairies and the like. Read these carefully, as they will explain a lot of the plot and subplots woven throughout the story. This adds a whole new dimension to watching a mystery. Watch the film through, read the extras and then watch it again and you will see a lot more to the story. This is a ground breaking film that should not be missed.