Compulsively intricate but also deeply affecting, Christopher Nolan’s Memento is a post-millennial movie that attempts to subvert a linear narrative as a way of reflecting the protagonist’s unease with their reality. Like the film’s central character, Leonard (Guy Pearce), Memento traffics in self-justifying denial. A former insurance investigator, Leonard’s short-term memory stopped functioning on the day his wife was murdered. He has to continually orient himself – introducing himself to people he has met, figuring out where he is, and even when he finds himself running down an alley, whether he’s chasing someone or they’re chasing him.
“You really need a system if you’re going to make it work,” notes Leonard, who gets by on bravado and a belief in incontrovertible facts : the most important of which – such as “Find him and kill him,” a reference to his wife’s executioner – are tattooed on his body. But systems can be corrupted and Leonard doesn’t know if acquaintances such as Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) and Natalie (Carrie-Ann Moss) are helping him or channelling his desire for revenge to their own purpose.
The picture is run in reverse, each scene is followed by the one that chronologically preceded it, giving you the same information as Leonard has : ie, none. But the mechanics of the plot are merely the surface layer. For all his certainty, Leonard’s long-term memory may also be impaired, suggesting he’s willing to subconsciously deceive himself just as others deceive him.
Memento is, more than anything, a tragedy. It marks the point where Leonard accepts his fate, deciding that if he is nothing more than a weapon, a fire-and-forget mechanism, that he may as well choose his own targets.
Thursday, 13 July 2006
Very occasionally one of the movie reviewers in the Green Guide will write with an insight and passion about their topic that does them credit. This week’s review by Craig Mathieson about Memento (Fri 7 1130P) is one such case. Instead of creating something in my own copy-cat words, I will quote extensively from his piece :