Memento (2000)

A crackerjack neo-Nair retrograded approach.


Memento is a psychological thriller that does not begin and end, but ends and then shows how it began. Christopher Nolan adapted the basic plot from his brother Jonathan’s short novel Memento mori. Although there were many changes in the feature film, the basic idea is from the novel. Christopher Nolan is already known for the Following in 1998, where he adapted a technique in showing elements in reverse chronological order and even though he did not get much attention with that, memento will make him recognize himself. This movie stands as his own and it will define him. The various elements in the movie like plot, narration and action set ups are all having some uniqueness in terms of demonstrating. I will say that action scenes are not really engaging enough to set the seats high in terms of popcorn action like gone in 60 seconds or mission impossible: II but it is smart with a racy retrograded screenplay. New market associated with Summit entertainment distributes the film. Nolan probably chose the smaller ones because he does not want the film to get expanded humongous but to a shorter extent and get appreciated in all the corners by demand.

The basis of the plot is about a person suffering from anterograde amnesia, a particular disorder in which creating new memories in impossible. Only thing that can be remembered is his identity and events before the amnesia. Even that needs a lot of thinking skills to recollect events before amnesia. Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) is suffering from the disorder and he kills a person Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) by checking the data on the Polaroid photograph he has with himself. The best way to remember things is to take snapshots and keep them as memories. Likewise he has many of such Polaroid shots with himself. It is known that he is the person who raped and murdered his wife. Now events go in reverse order and it brings us to the main part where the story started. Shelby does not remember much, but with the help of Natalie (Carrie-Anne-moss) he finds the man he needs. So now he is on trail to find the man and kill him.

With the runtime of nearly 110 minutes, memento looked a bit lengthy but the process of reverse treatment to the original screenplay is novel and really makes us interestingly watch it. There might be a deep question that we know the antagonist and why is the director showing us how it began. The climax is already known. This is not where Nolan wants us to believe but rather develop the plot in a fast paced reverse way to give a perfect climax that is not equal to the first scene we saw. Everything is challenged in terms of screenwriting and this has to be watched. The first thirty introduces characters and their motives. The next thirty slowly makes us realize his past and small events that occurred in his life. Some new characters are introduced and we see Shelby attending calls from an unknown person from his motel room. Their back-story reveals that teddy was also an amnesic and never remembers much. His wife tests him a lot of instances. The electric shock treatment, again and again and making him realize that he can only recover physically but not psychologically. Shelby has a small sub task to find Todd a person given by Natalie and finish him. His real motive is to find the man who murdered his wife. The last forty five is slightly slow but as the proceedings move forth it is just the fine example of a brilliant psychological drama that may never be what is to be. The climax is what Nolan succeeds at and gives the audience a relief and also a sort of exclamation. The screenwriting is perfect to be said. The plot never goes down. The characters are all present throughout the movie. It is hard to blame any characters that were wasted. Attempting the reverse order in terms of narrating the story is a clever approach and Nolan must be appreciated for this. For example: connecting two scenes one after another is really difficult, because it requires sharp editing and also good thinking skills to make some effective connection. But memento has many such elements that were perfectly connected one by one. Once in a while we see such a movie that follows the reverse order. I remember Pulp Fiction which followed a similar pattern. But pulp fiction has been confusing so much because audience was challenged to connect the proceedings and get to the result i.e. the present scenario. Nolan does not make audience scratch their heads for answers because he himself cleverly connects them and gives an astonishing surprise at the end.

Character development is perfectly constructed. There are only four main characters. Shelby played by Guy Pearce is just good. He managed to take the role and carry the whole on his shoulders. His previous venture being the Rules of Engagement, he transforms himself from a major to a memory loss patient in this one. I cannot say he was the best in acting, but for particular reasons Nolan chose him. Carrie-Anne moss played Natalie the girl who helps Shelby in finding his man. She had good conversations with Shelby and their presence was good enough. There are few overloaded shouting scenes that may not quite strike the chord, but get used to it because it had a purpose. Joe pantoliano did his good role as a cop who tries to help Shelby, but Shelby finally kills him. He is called John G. There were few small roles by Jorga fox that played Shelby’s wife and also some key roles by Stephen Tobolowsky and Harriet Sanson Harris.

Visual elements do not quite strike limelight because it follows the neo-Nair pattern and a serious story. Music, cinematography, camera work are all having a normal purpose and they do not do any extra work. Only the editing department worked hard for this and this whole lot runs based on editing and screenwriting. So to say memento is simply a normal psychological thriller drama that does not boast too much on it visuals. It is adaptive smart and works for its screenwriting. For general audience who cares only action movies may be disappointed, but for people who look for some change in the regular way of showing revenge drama will be happy. For me it is perfect to be remembered. Nolan will get the memento.  


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