Leonard Shelby is tracking down the man who raped and murdered his wife. The difficulty of locating his wife's killer, however, is compounded by the fact that he suffers from a rare, untreatable form of short-term memory loss. Although he can recall details of life before his accident, Leonard cannot remember what happened fifteen minutes ago, where he's going, or why.
We all lie to ourselves to be happy.
It's not until a film like Memento comes along, or that you personally have to deal with someone close who suffers a form of this subject to hand, that you get jolted to remember just how your memory is such a prized and treasured thing - and crucially that it's one of your key safety devices.
Christopher and Jonathan Nolan crafted one of the best films of 2000 based on those facets of the human condition. Their protagonist is Leonard Shelby, played with stupendous believability by Guy Pearce, who is suffering from a memory amnesia caused by a trauma to the head as he tried to aide his wife who was raped and murdered. He can remember things before the incident, but anything post that and he can't form a memory. So who can he trust? Does he know any of the few people who appear to be in his life at the present time? He tattoos his body to help him remember, constantly writes notes to keep him alert in his now alien world, while all the time he is on the search for the man who ruined his life.
Christopher Nolan plants the audience right into Leonard's world. By using a reverse story telling structure it's deliberately complex and ingenious given that it opens with the ending! It has been argued that it's trickery for trickery sake, style over substance, but the way each scene is built upon in the narrative is a thing of high quality, it's all relevant and demands the closest of attention from the viewer, where cheekily we are ourselves asked to form memories of prior narrative passages. Mystery is strong throughout, the characters currently in Leonard's life may have different means and motives, it keeps us alert, with the confusion, lies, manipulations, enigmas and amnesia angles booming with neo-noir vibrancy. And the Nolan's know their noir of course, adding a narrator who is hard to define or trust himself!
The reverse structure wasn't new in 2000, but Christopher Nolan picks up the idea and adds new strands to it, simultaneously bringing his visual ticks as David Julyan's musical score shifts from elegiac forebodings to pulse pounding dread, and as evidenced by the darling easter egg option that allows one to watch it in chronological order, it's a damn fine thriller without the reverse trickery anyway. Super. 9/10
Summit Entertainment, Newmarket Capital Group, Team Todd, I Remember Productions by Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan.
Stars: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano.
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Keywords: insulin tattoo waitress amnesia drug dealer motel manipulation insurance salesman revenge murder flashback confusion memory loss psychological thriller whodunit los angeles, california polaroid cult film nonlinear timeline individuality phone call neo-noir reverse chronology
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