Things from the Aughts You’ve Never Heard of: Memento

Brian Kirchgessner

Many current moviegoers have probably heard of Christopher Nolan. He has been responsible for the reinvention of Batman with Christian Bale, a mind-bending duel between magicians in The Prestige, and most recently, Inception, one of the most original summer blockbusters in years.
However, not many moviegoers are aware of the film Memento, which was Nolan’s first full feature film, and the superb start to a fantastic career. Unfortunately, the film, while initially a box office success grossing nearly $40 million worldwide on just a $9 million budget, has faded from public view in recent years.
In Memento, Guy Pearce portrays Leonard Shelby, a seemingly ordinary man suffering from a strange condition. Shelby has anterograde amnesia; he can remember who he is, but after an accident involving his wife’s murder, he finds himself unable to make new memories. During the course of the movie Shelby develops one goal: avenging his wife’s death.
This might sound like a fairly generic plot, even when describing the full synopsis. Thankfully, Nolan manages to inject this formula with fresh new blood, as the story is told in a unique way.

There are two timelines to be seen throughout the movie. One of the plots is shown in black and white and portrays Shelby describing his condition and his system of notes and tattoos that serve to jog his memory whenever he needs it. The other timeline is shown in color, and unlike the other sequence of events, it is played out in reverse order.

The color timeline begins with the murder of Teddy (Joe Pantoliano). Teddy is apparently the original killer, so Shelby kills him. After that, the story travels backwards in time, ultimately reaching an unexpected and intriguing conclusion when the two stories join together.
This bizarre storytelling tactic might seem like a gimmick at first, but in the context of the movie, the literary device works effectively. Through the two fragmented storylines, the audience is placed directly in the mind of Shelby, unaware of his previous actions, and trying to piece a complex series of events together.
Guy Pearce delivers a completely believable performance, seamlessly managing to create a seemingly simple, yet complex character that would have otherwise been difficult to portray. Joe Pantoliano is also superb; he gives a suitably creepy, yet surprisingly sympathetic performance, and has excellent chemistry with Pearce.
Memento is a fantastic, original, complex, and thought-provoking jigsaw puzzle of a movie, and even after nearly 10 years, it still remains one of Christopher Nolan’s best works. Nearly every aspect of the film is put together well; the acting is superb and the structure is unique. Many expecting a light, and brainless action movie will be disappointed. The subject matter might scare others off, but anyone looking for a sophisticated, well-paced, dialogue-driven thriller should be excited to give it a chance.