Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Stephen Tobolowski
Plot: A man with no short term memory (Pearce) tracks down the man who raped and killed his wife, using a strict system to keep track of his notes.
With thrillers, we know the drift by now. A hero is thrown into a world full of mysteries and puzzles to be solved. Nothing is what it seems and usually the leading star is our only connection to reality. However, with Christopher Nolan’s Memento, he robs us of even that. The leading man is Guy Pearce’s Lenny, a detective with no memory. As his only way of connecting the clues is following his own notes, he begins to wonder if those around him are manipulating him into going down the wrong path. Nolan, a massive grin on his face, has cast doubt on even the narrative, making this thriller a mind-bending puzzler that has you guessing until the very end.
Which is all the more masterful, seeing as the short term memory is not the only original idea thrown into this pot. Memento is a story told in reverse. It begins with the last scene, Lenny killing the man who raped and murdered his wife. The story plays out backwards, so we figure out how he managed to eventually track down the killer. It is an unique take on the story and you have to constantly readjust your thought process, so you remember this story is working backwards. Nolan, thankfully, doesn’t make it as complicated as it could be. The scenes overlap, so when the next scene ends up where the last scene started, you do get some vague notion of where everything clicks into place. There is no need to keep your own Memento set of notes to keep track of who is playing who. There is also an additional scene fitted in between the reverse scenes, where Lenny recounts his encounter with someone with the same short memory condition as him, over the phone. It helps us build a sense of who this hero is and why he is doing what he is doing. The writing is very clever and perhaps one of the more brilliant pieces of story-telling is the way we end up distancing ourselves from the hero. Nolan teaches us to not trust the narrative and look at the story from a wider perspective. Lenny follows his investigation off of his own notes, but cannot remember how true or up-to-date his memos are. As he meets a character for the third time, but has no memory of them, we are actually more aware of his surroundings than he is, so we are trapped aware he is taking advice from a character who is less than savoury. The kaleidoscope style of mystery is fantastic, as each new clue shifts the dynamic of the supporting cast. Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano play the two sidekick characters, helping Lenny track down the killer, but are they manipulating his condition to their own game?
In a sense, Memento is the most Nolan Nolan to date. While his Dark Knight trilogy sees him playing superheroes and his other pictures see him apply his style of story-telling to new and more exciting genres, Memento is easily the closest to his directorial debut, Following. The thriller is dripping with Noir tendencies. From the black and white stylistic scenes to the dry commentary by the hero, this screams a Noir for the modern age. Nolan keeps his lead dressed to the nines, the crisp white suit and Jaguar just as iconic to the film as the tattooed naked body that cements itself to the mind on that first watch. Yes, perhaps Memento is just that little bit too complicated for its own good – a common flaw of Nolan’s as evidenced by Interstellar – the plot breaking down the most eagle-eyed of viewer in its final third, but this just attracts a second viewing to fully comprehend the keen story that has just unfolded. While the rumours of a Memento remake are most certainly not welcome, it would be nice to see the director himself return to this genre at some point in the future. When a story is this original, it begs the question of what else the film-maker has to offer.
Final Verdict: A thriller like no other. Complex, innovative, but most importantly, with a reveal worth the complicated build-up.