Thursday, June 1, 2017

Movie #407: Memento

Memento is a neo-noir crime drama directed by Christopher Nolan in his pre-Inception days, and starring Guy Pearce, Carrie-Ann Moss, Joe Pantoliano, and Stephen Tobolowsky.

The movie is told backwards, starting with the murder of Teddy (Pantoliano) by Leonard Shelby (Pearce), and moving back, revealing what happened to lead up to it. Shelby suffers from a condition called short-term memory loss, which makes him unable to form new memories. As such, he forgets people, places, and events, and carries an instant camera around to help; he'll take a picture of someone and then write their name and whatever important information he might need on it for reference later. The trouble with that, of course, is that he's at the mercy of his own mind - his note about Teddy at the beginning of the movie says "HE IS THE ONE - KILL HIM," so he does...but is Teddy the one?

("The one" in this context means "the dude that raped and murdered Leonard's wife and left him with brain damage.")

As the movie progresses, we learn the sad truth: Leonard killed the guy responsible years ago. His wife didn't die in the attack, she died of insulin poisoning trying to get Leonard to snap out of his condition (a story that Leonard has displaced onto a man he once investigated during his days as an insurance adjustor). In the meanwhile, we find that Leonard has immersed himself in a world of drugs and low-grade crime, but is slowly redacting elements of the crime that "killed" his wife so that he can continue his quest. He can't ever actually finish it, after all, since he won't remember it, and if you take the premise that his story about Sammy Jankis (Tobolowsky) is really about him, he's not physically incapable of forming new memories, so he trains himself by rote to do things (this also explains how he can remember his own condition, by the way).

I really like this movie; like Nolan's first film, Following, it's bleak and noir and shady and a lot of fun. Unlike a lot of his later work, this movie also includes a female character (Moss' quasi-femme fatale Natalie) who's not there just as a foil to the lead, but who has an agenda and is capable of being sympathetic or sinister depending on which segment of memory we're in. It's definitely a movie that requires a rewatch to fully appreciate, but it's short enough that that's not an unattractive prospect.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Memoirs of an Invisible Man