Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

SPOILERS!

As I write these reviews, I (mostly…) attempt to tentatively link each film to similar ones in a sort of theme, I guess, over a longer period of time. I went through a Danish/Thomas Vinterberg phase for a time; any of my more pious readers will know paranoid ’70s films has been the major thread in recent times; I’ve slowly been progressing through the tricky course of Kubrick; psychological horrors were once – and always will be – a point of interest; ‘loner cinema’ – y’know, Taxi Driver, Joker, The Conversation, The King of Comedy – is never over; and hopefully we’ll be seeing a bit more Alexander Mackendrick in time to come.

So where does Memento fall? Well, it doesn’t. Maybe it could stake a claim for ‘loner cinema’, but that would be threadbare. So why could I have possibly included it today?

Simple: because it’s a brilliant film, chump! Directed by the often scintillating, often flawed Christopher Nolan, the film is about Leonard Shelbey (Guy Pearce), a former insurance salesman, who loses his ability to create ‘new memories’ (also called anterograde amnesia) when he’s hit on the head by a man who has raped and proceeds to murder his wife. Using the untrustworthy help of Teddy Gammell (Joe Pantoliano) and Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss), as well a disciplined life of habit, notes and tattoos, Lenny tries to track down the man he thinks killed his wife.

Memento is everything that you can love about film – it’s in the style of an old-fashioned noir, but perfectly combined with a thrilling, riddled and mysterious plot. It still feels surprisingly… modern. Despite the fact that, yes, no one uses polaroids any more, and most of the technology feels old fashioned, it’s still incredibly shocking that this film is 21 years old. The swirling story is as intriguing as ever.

I’ve really come to despise the use of iPhones and such in more modern films and TV, and I don’t think I’m the only one. It’s actually pretty tough for screenwriters to utilise and not ruin their plots. The use of polaroids instead becomes iconic because we don’t have them today. It’s just like the use of old burner phones in Breaking Bad has become archetypal to any crime show around. There’s something so romantic about the polaroid – the fact every picture is unique and total individual, and can never be recreated again. While Lenny’s tattoos are permanent, linking back to the historical tribal days of honour and fortitude, his photos can so quickly be erased.

I do think this is one of Christopher Nolan’s best, if not the best. The direction is incredibly slick and stylish, and the screenplay is nothing short of a triumph. Sometimes, when Nolan has to go smaller than a money flushed Tenet, say, his films have to be more grounded and down-to-earth. And I think this is very effective in making his ideas, which can often be infuriatingly complex and pretentious, more palatable for the audience. With Memento embracing such an unusual subject matter, it could have easily crumbled, but instead it became revolutionary because of it.

The non-linear story is what really fascinates me about this film, however. It’s genius. The fact we start with what would have been the climax in any other film, and end in the middle of the story, is the pinnacle of filmmaking. It seems incredibly unlikely that anyone would be able to make an audience sympathise with such an unrelatable condition, yet, somehow, Nolan makes us empathise with it.

We’re left dazed and confused as we cut from black and white to colour, from past to future, struggling to remember what happened last, how to connect the dots – but it isn’t frustrating. It’s thrilling. It’s satisfying. The convergent narrative is one of the biggest triumphs for cinema, and, to truly appreciate, Memento needs more than one watch.

This was always going to be awkward, but there was never going to be a good time. Anyway, it’s only fair that I profess my undying love for Joe Pantoliano. He’s such a great, eccentric character actor. Teddy is one of the most interesting, unreadable and complex personalities in Memento. He’s always had to play second fiddle (or lower) in his career, and while he seems to thrive in it, I’ve always felt he deserves more – whether than be recognition or a role worthy of his talent. Pantoliano will, of course, always be remembered for one of the greatest personas ever seen in television – that being The Sopranos’ Ralphie Cifaretto, the man we hated to love.

Guy Pearce also has to get a mention, obviously. Leaving out the hair, his is worse than Pantoliano, because that potential and talent is so blatantly there, and it feels like it was never fully exploited to the extremes that it could be. It’s sad to see him turning up in Michael B. Jordan’s Without Remorse, because he’s so much better than that. But if there was ever a man to rise from the ashes, Pearce isn’t a bad bet. He’s clearly a great guy, stumbling between a mainstream leading man and a selfless actor tired of a immoral industry. It’s fair to say, not many could have been as brave as Pearce to take the lead role here, and he got his just rewards.

What’s great about this film is that everyone’s walked into a room, and gone: “what the hell am I doing?” Memories are incredibly unreliable, and, ultimately, useless. Pointless. Lenny has to experience this in the most literal sense. So he must leave himself notes and clues to have any idea of what he’s doing. Yet he lies in these notes and clues, knowing that his future, blank-slate self will never know, to give himself a purpose, to give himself a life.

Let’s be honest – who doesn’t lie to themselves to live? Who isn’t an unreliable narrator, rewriting their own histories in their head as they go? And perhaps the fact that Lenny can’t hold any new memories, changing them every time like a dinner party anecdote, means he truly knows who he is. He can see the true picture, just like the clear flash of a polaroid. He knows he’s mentally ill, he knows his life is meaningless, and he knows he lies to himself. And who would want to live that life? No one – despite the fact we all do.

You can guess with Memento, but you’ll never get it right, even on your hundredth watch. It’s a masterpiece. And it’s impossible to forget.

Memento – 8.5 out of 10

42 Comments

  1. Such a clever, briskly paced and dark film. How did they write something so complex as that?! How could anyone?! I’ve yearned for a Polaroid ever since. Good post

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have no idea! I do know that it was adapted from a book, so the author should definitely get some credit for that, but it’s a stunningly intricate story. Nolan did a great job adapting it. I’ll make sure to get you a Polaroid for your next birthday – tell me when it is! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes please! December! 😀

        I must hunt out the book. H

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Can’t vouch for the book, but love to hear what you think if you do get round to it!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Alex Good says:

    Very close to being in synchronicity again. I just wrote up my notes on Tenet yesterday and said I thought this might be Nolan’s best movie. Tenet on the other hand . .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha! Yes, I’d loved to see you take a bite out of Tenet. But this really is like a high level game of chess – your move next, Alex…

      Like

  3. I have and use Polaroid cameras. Good movie. Need to rewatch it now!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Memento themed week, Fraggle? Phil to play Teddy? We’d love to see it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’ll be a nope.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That negative attitude will get you nowhere. Come on, I’m sure he could really perfect that wink!

          https://images.app.goo.gl/roSg5uzxT3pxEXFr9

          Like

  4. Bookstooge says:

    How does this stack up against Inception? I really enjoyed that movie, a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good question. I prefer Memento – I think a better film – but I’m a pretentious ‘cinephile’. They’re both similar being psychological mysteries, but after that, the similarities stop. Memento should go on the must watch list. It’s an amazing story.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Bookstooge says:

        Good to know.
        And if I ever get the chance, I’ll try to watch this. I’ll have to bug my brother to buy it, hahahahaa 😀

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I know it’s currently on BBC iPlayer over here, although I didn’t watch it that way. No idea how any of that stuff works over in the big US of A, but just wanted to let you know. Pretty sure Bringing Up Baby is also on there.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Bookstooge says:

          It all depends on what streaming services one pays for. And even then, one usually still has to pay for a new movie.
          And I refuse to pay for movies.
          So I either borrow them or get them from my subscription with prime.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. You have to pay for BBC iPlayer? Oof. That’s a low blow. Yep, I think bugging your brother may be your best course of action.

          Liked by 1 person

        4. Bookstooge says:

          I have no idea if I would have to pay for that or not. But any “I” thingy isn’t for me as I’m not in the apple ecosystem.

          Liked by 2 people

        5. Ah, I’ll explain. The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) are the biggest channel over here, and I think they’re in America too. They have a streaming service to watch their shows on demand – it’s nothing to do with Apple, despite the misleading “I”. But Google tells me you need a VPN to watch it in America – which is one of those extreme security things you download to block anyone seeing what you’re doing on your computer or phone, so it also blocks location. But we’re going into uncharted waters here, so I’ll leave it at that.

          Liked by 2 people

        6. Bookstooge says:

          Thanks. Yeah, I’m familiar with the beeb and with vpn’s. and other darker web stuff too.
          I’m pretty sure I could get an addon for Prime to get bbc stuff, but like I said, Bookstooge no payee.
          Because I’m a thrifty yankee 😀

          Liked by 2 people

        7. My favourite type of Yankee!

          Liked by 2 people

  5. Memento – an absolutely brilliant film.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Correct! Glad you agree with me. It’s a stunning watch.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I totally agree with you, great movie, the best Nolan ever. I saw it just once but it’s stuck in my memory (paradox) and it’s great cinema school too. Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It is one that you just can’t forget. As you say: you see it once, and it’ll be stuck in your head forever – which is ironic. And I agree again: brilliant cinema school too. Anyone interested in going into film should have to watch Memento, no excuses.

      Like

  7. beetleypete says:

    Despite owning the film on DVD, I watched it again last week on TV. (BBC, no ad breaks)
    It doesn’t matter how many times you watch this edgy ‘Groundhog Day’ experience, the tension never goes away, and there is always a “I forgot that bit” moment.
    Pantoliano is very underrated. I thought he was brilliant in ‘Bound’, but his supporting roles – and often dodgy wigs- do seem to have left him chained to minor roles in often so-so films. I don’t rate Nolan as much as most film fans, though I did enjoy ‘The Prestige’. But with this film, he certainly left his mark on ‘modern noir’.
    Cheers, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. As usual, you’re bang on. It is a dark version of Groundhog Day, and a great comparison. Pantoliano is great in everything he does, and Memento is no different. It’s incredible how he can manage to make the most despicable characters so likeable. Hopefully, I’ll get round to doing The Prestige. Cheers Pete!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Brian Hannan says:

    No doubt a fantastic film and a great introduction to the themes and style of Christopher Nolan. Groundhog Day with bite for sure.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yep, hopefully I can begin a bit of a Nolan thread too, perhaps. As I said to Pete above, Groundhog Day is a great comparison – I may have to change the title!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Brian Hannan says:

        Be interesting to do a Nolan retrospective.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m so ADD – I decided to make my own storyboard to put all the scenes in chronological order. It worked! I was like, Woahhhhh

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, that’s brilliant. I’ve always wanted to watch it in chronological order, just to see how well it would work, compared to the original. I think I probably need to buy the DVD and select the scenes in order. Won’t be seamless, but will definitely be interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There’s probably a re-edit on youtube too I bet.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. No doubt there’s that too. If I get some spare time today, I’ll check one out.

          Like

  10. Ola G says:

    All right, just one question: what movie can get a 10 from you? After all that effusive praise I expected at least 9! 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. A 10 must be pure perfection, or very very near to that. Is any film perfect? I highly doubt it. We may never see a 10 on this blog for years to come! The highest I’ve ever given is 9.5, and that’s for, IMHO, the greatest film of all, The Godfather Part II.

      But I’ve successfully botched the rating system, it has to be said. I’ve only given nines to The Godfather, The Silence of the Lambs and The King of Comedy. Not even Taxi Driver or Chinatown got a nine. Is Memento better than either of those? Probably not. It is, however, better than The Shining, Klute and Fargo. So 8.5 is great to fall back on. I love 8.5.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Ola G says:

        I’m more generous than you, then 😉 Apocalypse Now! would get a 10, and Straight Story too. Taxi Driver – a 9.5, Deer Hunter a 9 or more. I’m not a fan of Fargo, so… 7.5? 😁

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Woah! You’re wild! I do love Deer Hunter, but I gave that an 8.5 – I’m telling you, it’s the greatest number ever.

          Liked by 3 people

        2. Ola G says:

          10 for Godfather and E.T. and the first Alien, too! 😁

          Liked by 3 people

  11. I really like Memento, and how all the characters are flawed in one way or another, the black and white filming lends to the classic noir feel.
    Here’s my review from 2013, my review writing skills needed work back then, but I think I hit all the high points. I have to see this film again.
    https://reviewswithatude.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/classic-movie-review-memento-2000/

    Liked by 2 people

  12. sharlene25 says:

    Wow! This movie sounds intense and utterly riveting. I haven’t even heard of it. Good psychological thrillers are so rare nowadays. Even when you think you have found a goodie, the ending turns out to be a let-down… Will check out the movie for Saturday night movie night. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sorry for the very late reply and thanks for the comment! Hope you gave it a watch and it was up to your expectations…

      Like

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