#44: Memento (2000)

When and how did I watch this?

February 27th, 2017, on a random site.

Had I seen this film already?


What did I know about the movie before watching it?

One of my favorites. Leonard Shelby (Pearce) plays a man who believes a crime committed against his late wife and himself resulted in short term memory loss due to head trauma.  He lives his life using systems of photgraphs, tattoos, and a wall diagram to help him organize everything, because he’s aware that soon he’ll forget what he had just learned. The defining trait of this film is its manner of presentation; two timelines are interspliced and forcibly juxtaposed: a “real time” extended scene of a phone call while Leonard sits in a motel room, and a series of scenes played “backwards”, or cut in reverse order and played one after the other. The effect is extraordinary.  The film also features Joe Pantoliano and Carrie Moss, who also played in The Matrix, and it really shows off their abilities beyond the very two-dimensional roles they inhabit in the overwrought sci-fi trilogy.

What do I know about it now?

No love lost here. This is Nolan’s finest work on the list so far, and while some might find the presentation a bit confusing, it’s supposed to be to a degree.  We’re forced to remember the previous scene, where certain characters (namely Natalie [Moss]) behave in a contrary fashion moments later, knowing Leonard’s condition and taking advantage of it. Further viewing generates sympathy for Teddy Gammell, a undercover officer who seems to be the most morally sound and understanding in his life despite having some ulterior motives and flaws of his own, and even more for Leonard, who we discover dangerously contrives his own “memories” at the behest of his closest confidant. The climactic revelation in the end (SPOILER ALERT), and one of the more stunning in film history, is that of Leonard’s memory of Sammy Jankis, another victim of short-term memory loss and the husband of a diabetic who loses her grip on life and commits suicide by asking Sammy to inject her with insulin several times.  We determine, through some clever cinematography and putting some pieces together, that Leonard IS Sammy, a heartbreaking revelation that affirms Leonard is capable of developing false memories. (END SPOILER) I’ve since read some summaries and analyses, even to the point of a negative review, that don’t seem to do the film justice; this one seems to do the best: http://www.salon.com/2001/06/28/memento_analysis/

What are some themes in the film?

Memory, revenge, deceit, anterograde amnesia

Did this affect me personally?

Several of the scenes are haunting to me, the most memorable being when Natalie takes all of the pens in her house and waits outside for Leonard to forget that he’d just hit her, then creating a new story when she re-enters. Brutal.  The Sammy Jankis story, and to a limited degree his own, are emotionally moving tales from the perspective of a married man.

Why is this ranked #44?

The Nolan label helps, but it’s a distinct film in its presentation.  While some might perceive it as gimmicky, it hadn’t been done before, and that’s meaningful and memorable. Moss and Pantoliano turn in outstanding performances as their respective characters, both convincing and dynamic, yet flawed, ironically a trait oblivious to Leonard. We can identify with forgetfulness to some level, and sort of empathize with Leonard in the end, despite becoming a monster we’d never want to meet.

Did my wife watch/like it?

This is one of her favorites as well.  She was busy with work at the time, I believe, but it’s a film we’ll likely see again anyway.

Would I watch it again?

Watching this film again is akin to Groundhog Day, because we feel like the ones who know everything while our characters are stuck in their limited understanding of the world around them. In the case of Memento, it’s a clever reminder of how incredible the human mind is, and the powerful effect of revenge on our psyche in any mental state.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

This one might have passed you by.  It was buried in theaters and overshadowed with Lord of the RingsPearl HarborJurassic Park 3, Harry Potter, and Shrek, all some of the highest grossing of all time. It might be better than all of them.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

Largely ignored by the AFI and rejected by a handful of staunch critics, Memento is nonetheless a mesmerizing montage of scenes that will leave a permanent impression on you. With my best attempt to put aside my personal bias, it’s one of the best films ever made, because while it might appear confusing at first, the revelation and its moving conclusion has a profound effect on the viewer, and from this writer’s perspective, the film’s greatness is on full display no matter what details you might not recall upon your initial viewing.

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