Film #5 on the 100 Movies Bucket List: Memento
I have to admit, I may be a little biased when it comes to Memento. Christopher Nolan is my favourite director and Memento is both one of my favourite films of his and one of my favourite films of all time. For me, this undoubtedly deserves its place on this bucket list.
Memento is a 2000 psychological thriller starring Guy Pearce as Leonard Shelby, a man suffering from anterograde amnesia, searching for the person responsible for the death of his wife, using notes and tattoos to organise his thoughts.
One of the most noticeable features of Memento is the fact that half of the narrative is told backwards. The movie begins at the end, focusing on a rather gruesome Polaroid photograph that fades rather than develops and a victim of a shooting coming back to life. The rest of the film jumps backwards a few minutes at a time, each scene ending where the last one started. For a film about memory loss and amnesia, this mechanism of telling the story really helps put us in Leonard’s shoes. It makes you feel as confused as he is. On the original DVD release, there was a hidden feature that allowed you to play the film in chronological order and this just didn’t have the same impact. These reverse scenes are interspersed with black and white flashbacks of Leonard earlier in his wife’s murder investigation and his life as an insurance investigator, which really help with the exposition. These paired together alongside a haunting score make for an intriguing and not your run of the mill murder mystery.
There are some great performances in this that also help increase the intrigue. Carrie-Anne Moss as the apparently helpful Natalie and Joe Pantoliano as the questionable sidekick appear new to Leonard every time they meet yet their loyalties and motives waver for us as the viewers throughout the film. And Guy Pearce manages to portray the frustrated and not as innocent as he first appears Leonard incredibly well, and holds this film on his own for most of the run time. They’re helped by a clever and smart script that flawlessly blends the sinister and rather dark criminal aspects of this with some surprisingly funny lines.
This story starts at the end so you don’t have to worry about how it turns out, but despite this Memento still comes up with a rather cracking twist and denouement. This entire film is about time and memory and how unreliable it is, and the lies we tell ourselves about our own identities. Even during this, what we thought we knew about Leonard as the black and white flashback meets the backwards story, is revealed to be completely unreliable and quite shocking. Without revealing too much, the outcome of this film is both surprising, sinister and rather emotional, and features some of the best dialogue of the entire movie. Leonard’s actions and motives revealed here and the final voiceover as he drives off makes for a hugely satisfying ending.
I first watched Memento in a psychology class at college around 17 years ago. I loved it then and in the years since it hasn’t lost its appeal. Watching it back now still evokes the same emotion and feelings when the credits roll as it did all those years ago and will always be one of my favourite films, even possibly my all-time favourite.
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