I first saw the film Memento about 8 years ago, so it is hard to recall my initial feelings after seeing it for the first time, but I do remember being blown away. I was only 13 at the time, but psychological thrillers were and remain my favorite genre of movie, so I had been around this type of film before. It was actually one of my favorites for a while along with The Butterfly Effect and The Secret Window. Now, after watching it again at 21, it has just as much relevance as it did that first time. In fact, Memento is one of those movies that really have to be watched more than once to really pick up on everything.
Memento, Christopher Nolan’s second feature film, is about a man who suffers from short-term memory loss after being assaulted at home after his wife was raped. He dedicates his entire life seeking revenge on the elusive John G. that was never found. As you can imagine, trying to find a murderer while not being able to create new memories would be quite the challenge. Leonard (Guy Pearce) creates a system of tattoos and polaroids to remind himself of the clues he has found that lead to the rapist.
The start of the movie alludes to the fashion we will see the movie. We see an image on a polaroid that fades out of focus rather than coming into it, before it is sucked back into the camera and the bullet retreats out of the dead man’s head back into the gun chamber. From here the movie is told in two main alternating sequences, with a minor one sprinkled throughout.
One sequence is played in color, and is the reverse order of the way the events actually happened. So we start with the killing of a man we know nothing about at first, and gradually come to find out the situation as we work backwards in the storyline.
The other main sequence is played in a monochromatic gray, and is played in chronologically correct order going forwards in time. The minor sequence is flashbacks that Leonard has of his last made memory, the night he found his wife limp on the ground after being brutally raped.
By the end of the film the two sequences meet up to where the bit going forward in time meshes into the bit going backwards in order, and we are finally able to piece together all the bits of the story from start to finish now.
Nolan’s irregular use of the form in this film is unmatched by just about any other movie I have seen. The broken chronology of the film is a perfect representation of the broken mind of Leonard. To understand the film, you have to be pretty keen and stay focused on what you are watching, but to create this cohesive timeline monster from scratch is a genius endeavor by Nolan in my opinion.
Because the storylines are broken up, they always start and end in an overlapping fashion, so parts of every scene are showed a couple times. This repetition really makes you want to be able to just see things in real time in the right direction, but the fact that it doesn’t just makes you want to keep watching even more. In fact right after finishing you want to watch it all over again just to understand it that much better. It is a great film in my opinion and definitely worth the watch (and the 2nd watch).