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  • Post last modified:August 22, 2020

Memento: Getting It Backwards


mementoThe film kept building over several months. It opened at the Venice Film Festival in September 2000 and then continued playing the festival circuit. Its American premiere was in January 2001 at the Sundance Film Festival. Critics debated the filmā€™s merits, audiences admired the way the filmmakers played with time. It didnā€™t cost much, but in the endĀ MementoĀ did make some money, snatched a few Oscar nominations and launched the career of its director, Christopher Nolan. But the one who deserves the most praise is Guy Pearce.Ā 

Starting at the end
The film starts at the end. We see the main character, Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), realize that the man heā€™s been after is the guy who at first appeared to be helping him, John Gammell (Joe Pantoliano). Leonard pulls out a gun and tries to shoot him. Thatā€™s the end of the story but certainly not the film. Step by step, director Nolan takes us back to the beginning and we slowly learn that Leonard is an insurance investigator who, as a result of having suffered a blow to his head, has virtually no short-term memory. Heā€™s now looking for the man who raped and murdered his wife (and also caused his condition). Itā€™s not an easy thing to do when every day you wake up somewhere, you have no idea where you are or how you got there.

Leonard has a few tricks, though. He keeps taking Polaroids and writes little messages on them and he has also tattooed certain important facts on his body. He canā€™t do without those tricks, but as the story progresses we see how easily manipulated he still is by people who either help or hurt him in his quest for justice; those people include the sleazy Mr. Gammell and a barmaid called Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss).Ā 

Simply not thrilling enough
As a whole, this thriller works pretty well. Telling a story backwards is not an easy thing, but Nolan has come up with a clever way of doing it. The story has been divided into sequences that end with the beginning of the preceding sequence. As a bridge between every sequence of events, heā€™s using black-and-white footage of Leonard sitting in a motel room, telling someone on the phone about another man who suffered from the same condition as Leonard. All this is creative, but does it make a good movie? Well, almost. I think there are plenty of moments when the story simply isnā€™t thrilling enough, when the jumbled way of telling it appears to be little more than just a gimmick.

The film has its share of secrets, likeĀ Donnie DarkoĀ of that same year, but Iā€™m not sure a second look atĀ MementoĀ would make me think harder about whatā€™s going on. However, with this concept Nolan has managed to instill in the viewer the same kind of confusion that Leonard is going through every morning, and that fits the movie really well.Ā 

Pearce is a major reason why we stay with Leonard till the end/beginning of the film. We feel sorry for him because of the condition that makes him such a target. We sympathize with his mission and Pearce succeeds in creating a real human being, not another John McClane. We need that to overcome those parts of the movie that are forgettable (yes, pun intended).

Memento 2001-U.S. 113 min. Color-Black/White. Widescreen. Written and directed byĀ Christopher Nolan. Cast: Guy Pearce (Leonard Shelby), Carrie-Anne Moss (Natalie), Joe Pantoliano (John Edward Gammell), Mark Boone, Jr., Stephen Tobolowsky, Jorja Fox.

Trivia:Ā Alec Baldwin was reportedly considered for the part of Leonard. The screenplay was based on a story by Nolanā€™s brother, Jonathan.


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