#169) Memento (2000)
OR “Warily We Roll Along”
Directed & Written by Christopher Nolan. Based on the short story “Memento Mori” by Jonathan Nolan.
Class of 2017
The Plot: Told in two parallel storylines (one going chronologically and the other in reverse), “Memento” focuses on Leonard (Guy Pearce), a man afflicted with anterograde amnesia (aka short-term memory loss) as the result of an attack on him and his wife (Jorja Fox) that ended with her dead. Using a detailed supply of notes he writes for himself, and tattoos on his own body with just the facts, Leonard is determined to find and murder the man who killed his wife. But the real question isn’t who killed her, it’s who can Leonard trust? The charming but cryptic Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss)? The suspiciously friendly Teddy (Joe Pantoliano)? Or his own memory?
Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film “innovative” and explains just how Nolan pulled off the film’s nonlinear structure. “Memento” is the first narrative feature from the 2000s to be included on the National Film Registry. So it’s basically the “Citizen Kane” of the last decade, no big whoop.
But Does It Really?: Oh yeah. “Memento” is an intellectual thriller that scratches your brain in just the right places. Nonlinear storytelling can feel gimmicky when applied incorrectly [laughs nervously], but married to this particular story it creates a film that isn’t a whodunit, but rather a how and whydunit that kept me guessing until the very end. Nolan expertly leads you through the labyrinth without making things too confusing. Add in a brilliantly subtle yet complex performance by Guy Pearce at the center of it, and you’ve got yourself a modern classic. Not only is “Memento” a thoroughly solid film, but the ripple effect that it gave us with Christopher Nolan is still very much being felt in pop culture and filmdom today.
Everybody Gets One: Christopher Nolan, though I’m so positive that will change soon I’m just gonna put the Update Asterisks here now**. Special mention to Jorja Fox as Leonard’s wife, aka “the vic”.
Wow, That’s Dated: Polaroid cameras, that’s the big one. Can you imagine this movie if Leonard was using a smart phone to solve this?
Title Track: No one says “memento“, even though Leonard has the perfect opportunity when he’s burning his wife’s stuff. All that aside, the real drinking game is every time someone says the word “condition”.
Seriously, Oscars?: A commercial and critical success, “Memento” walked away with a boatload of year-end awards. But when it came time for the Oscars, the film went home empty-handed. Dody Dorn lost Best Editing to “Black Hawk Down”, while the Nolans lost Original Screenplay to “Gosford Park”. Wanna hear something worse? Christopher Nolan would have to wait 16 years to get his first Best Director nomination. That’s right, he wasn’t nominated until “Dunkirk”. Don’t that just beat all?
- Why Original Screenplay instead of Adapted? Because Jonathan’s short story wasn’t published until 2001, a few months after the film’s release.
- What a great opening credits sequence. It sets up the whole film perfectly. And to think that opening credits would be all but extinct in just a few years time.
- This is one of the rare films where the voiceover narration feels necessary. Take that, “Blade Runner” original cut!
- Hey hey hey, no times for puns, Leonard. You leave that to me.
- Not only is Guy Pearce giving a wonderfully captivating performance, but he’s also very good at solving L.A. based homicides.
- I’ve never understood people who get tattoos with lengthy text. Am I supposed to read the whole thing? Would you stand still for a sec?
- Ah yes, the time-honored film tradition of flashbacks to your dead wife. It’s to Nolan what the “absent fathers” trope is to Spielberg.
- The chronological cut of “Memento” gives you added appreciation for the work of Joe Pantoliano and Carrie-Anne Moss. You won’t see that kind of nuance in “The Matrix”, that’s for sure.
- Stephen Tobolowsky loves movies that fuck with linear time.
- Shout out to “Green Acres”.
- Pearce does a great American accent, but his teeth are the giveaway that he ain’t from around here.
- It must be degrading having your butt kicked by a naked guy.
- “Oh, I’m chasing this guy. No, he’s chasing me.” I laughed out loud at that line. This film manages to be quite funny when it wants to be.
- Can credit cards still open a locked door now that they have chips?
- It’s nice to see Harriet Harris do some wonderful low-key acting. I’m used to her work as Bebe Glazer and Bebe Glazer-esque characters.
- Teddy doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who would namedrop Annie Leibovitz, but here we are.
- Jimmy goes to the Derek Smalls Academy of Moustache Grooming.
- What a twist! Or, for the chronological viewing: What a set-up!
- I cannot hate any movie that plays David Bowie over the closing credits.
- This film started the well-crafted, oft-confusing, internet-worshiped Christopher Nolan filmography that’s still going strong today.
- If you had asked me in 2000 what Christopher Nolan’s follow-up film would be, I would not have guessed something with Robin Williams.
- And I certainly would not have guessed three Batman movies.
- “Memento” was remade in India as 2005’s “Ghanjini”, which itself was remade by Bollywood three years later.
- There’s talk of an American remake, but why would you make this again? We already have “Finding Dory”.
Further Viewing: The similarly structured “Betrayal”, based on the Harold Pinter play. If you’ve ever wanted to see Ben Kingsley with hair, this is your movie.
Listen to This: Speaking of Bowie…
** 2020 Update: Told ya.