JJ Silf: Memento Review

Posted: July 16, 2012 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in JJ Silf's Movie Reviews

Release date: October 11th, 2000

Running time: 1 hour and 53 minutes

Written by: Christopher Nolan

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Starring: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Ann Moss, and Joe Pantoliano

Anterograde amnesia is defined as the loss of memory for events immediately following a trauma, sometimes in affect for long periods of time following said trauma. This is the basis for Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed, Memento. Christopher Nolan has blossomed and has become known as one of the most renowned director’s of the 21st century after directing such blockbusters as Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Inception and arguably the most anticipated film of 2012, The Dark Knight Rises. I feel that it is only fitting to delve into Nolan’s first feature length film for a viewing before the release of his 7th directed full-length film. Does Christopher Nolan’s first film hold up twelve years after it’s release? With that said, let’s find out.

The film revolves around the life of on Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) and his day-to-day happenings. It does not take long for the film to introduce Shelby’s strange condition developed after being attacked in his own home years before the events taking place in the film. Shelby suffered a form of anterograde amnesia following the attack that prevents any new memories forming, just allowing Shelby to live his life with nothing but the memories before the disastrous attack. But there is much more to this attack than Shelby battling his dysfunctional mental state, as the film follows his efforts to find and kill the man responsible for the attack that not only left Shelby as a man without new memories, but also took the life of his wife. With the help of his friend Teddy Gammell (Joe Pantoliano), and a newly acquainted woman by the name of Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss), Shelby continues to live his life entirely devoted on finding the one responsible for the death of his beloved wife, leaving himself clues and notes each day on potential suspects to bypass the amnesia he suffers. Will Leonard Shelby avenge his deceased wife? Can he trust those around him?

We all need mirrors to remind ourselves who we are. I’m no different.

The first aspect of the film that I would like to bring to light is the writing and the dialogue. Christopher Nolan himself wrote the film after he adapted the basic premise from his brother’s short story entitled, “Memento Mori”. Christopher Nolan has been known for his intelligently written stories and the writing presented in Memento is no different. The dialogue of each character seems so natural in comparison to the given circumstances of the situation presented in each scene. Each distinct character having their own significant way of speaking to further progress the story. However, the dialogue is not the most impressive aspect of the two. Easily the most recognizable trait of this film is the story itself. Christopher Nolan does a fantastic job at fluently progressing the story with his own twist on storytelling as the film is broken up and is not told in complete succession but instead told from point “A” to point “D” and then back to point “B” and so on. If you want to hold a firm grasp on the film’s story, you will want to pay close attention to everything that is going on and with Christopher Nolan’s brilliant, yet complex writing style, this will surely be a film targeted to those looking for an intelligent brain-buster of a flick that will compel it’s viewers. At times, I admit that the story can become a bit messy because of Nolan’s direction and writing style, however, this adds so much more to the viewer’s experience and allows the viewer to be put into Leonard Shelby’s shoes as they walk throughout the story with him, not always entirely sure of what is to come next or what is happening at that specific moment. This style allows the viewer to be lulled into a mist of confusion at times and help identify with the protagonist. If you walk away from the film feeling slightly confused, then the film somewhat did part of it’s intended job. And with Nolan’s complex story comes a conclusion that feels so satisfying to the viewer that is sure to leave you in awe.

          “Remember Sammy Jankis”.

Guy Pearce, coming off of a critically acclaimed performance in the 1997 film, L.A. Confidential, gives a fantastic performance in Memento as Leonard Shelby. Going into the film, I was not entirely sure how Pearce would be able to pull off his role as a mentally disturbed man with an ax to grind with an unknown murderer, as he did such a remarkable job at portraying a cool headed detective in L.A. Confidential, however, Pearce was able to brilliantly contrast the two sides of Leonard Shelby. The two sides of Shelby being his calm, cool and collective manner and the other being his blind rage and frustration stemming from his mental disability and the events surrounding the search for his wife’s killer. Carrie Anne-Moss, as Natalie, did a respectable job at portraying a character shrouded in mystery and continuously left the viewer in mist and confusion if she was a friend or foe to Mr. Shelby. Joe Pantoliano added another excellent performance to his long list of films in his lengthy acting career. Pantoliano played the role of Teddy Gammell who has some limited screen time but works off his provided character quite well and is quite necessary for the plot of the film. Pantoliano leaves little to be left desired in his performance, thus, rounding out three great performances from the main cast of the film. All three of these starring roles present a realistic amount of emotion to their characters and further progress the development of these characters you, as the viewer, quickly become attached too.

I can’t remember to forget you”.

The cinematography in this film is a treat to film analysts. Wally Pfister has done the cinematography for nearly all of Nolan’s films since Memento and the film is shot brilliantly, adding more to the plot and atmosphere of the story that most would think. The contrast between the black-and-white shots that occur while Shelby is basically narrating some events to himself or over the phone to an unknown party, and the drooping, dull colours presented in other scenes helps further the mood and atmosphere of the film quite brilliantly. The direction and cinematography using repetition in their shots, such as the last memory formed in the mind of Shelby being the dreadful sight of his wife’s cold, dead eyes as she lay in a heap upon the bathroom floor, further develop the cold and depressing atmosphere that comes with the film’s subject matter.

You don’t want the truth. You make up your own truth”.

At the end of the film, it becomes clear to the viewer that the film was never intended to bring the viewer on a journey to find the killer responsible for the death of Shelby’s wife, but in fact to just experience the hardships and disturbances that lie Shelby’s confusing life. The film thrives because of it’s absolutely brilliant and enticing screenwriting concocted by Christopher Nolan. Leonard Shelby is a tortured man who is simply living to avenge his wife, thus making him a character easily rooted for. Combine the screenwriting with an exceptional performance from Guy Pearce and intelligent, creative direction from director Christopher Nolan, you get this fantastical masterpiece that could very well be considered Nolan’s greatest achievement in film despite his remarkable career thus far. I can safely say that Memento is my Christopher Nolan film of choice and will go down as one of my all-time favorite films.

But even if you get revenge you’re not gonna remember it. You’re not even gonna know that it happened.

Natalie (Carrie Anne-Moss)

          “My wife deserves vengeance. Doesn’t make a difference whether I know about it. Just because there are things I don’t remember doesn’t make my actions meaningless. The world doesn’t just disappear when you close your eyes, does it?

Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce)


Rating: A+

  1. brikhaus says:

    Great movie. Nolan’s best. Nice review, as well.

    • JJ Silf says:

      It was close when ranking Nolan’s films, but it didn’t feel right not having Memento at #1.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. le0pard13 says:

    Love this film. It is the one that put Christopher Nolan on the map and into a select list of mine for elite filmmakers. I only caught it on later after its disc release, but really would have wanted to have seen it on the big screen. Well done, and timely for this week ;-).

    • JJ Silf says:

      PG’s done an excellent job with the reviews of Nolan’s Batman reviews, so I only found it fitting to delve into Nolan’s past work given the coming release of TDKR. Glad you enjoyed it!

      Thanks for reading!

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