Christopher Nolan has become one of the best directors working today with each of his films becoming an event in recent years. Although he’s predominantly known for his work on The Dark Knight Trilogy, he has done arguably better work on other projects in his career, creating a filmography that still does not have a major blemish. So that you may expand your knowledge of Christopher Nolan, let’s take a deep look into the film that put him on the map, Memento! The following review will be spoiler free.
Memento is directed by the aforementioned Christopher Nolan and stars Guy Pierce, Joe Pantoliano, and Carrie-Anne Moss. We follow Leonard (Pierce) who is attempted to find the man who raped and murdered his wife. However, Leonard was severely beaten by the culprit and now cannot retain any new memories as the blow crippled his short term memory. As a result, Leonard must rely on copious note-taking (some of which has been tattooed onto his body) in order to track down the man who he believes is still on the loose.
Before Christopher Nolan was a household name, he primarily worked in smaller projects, focusing on creating great characters since he had much lower budgets for his films. After his first film, Following, was a success in the independent film realm, he quickly tackled his next, and arguably most inventive film, Memento all the way back in 2000. It is often noted that Memento was the movie that gave Nolan the opportunity to direct The Dark Knight franchise.
One thing that I’ve always appreciated about Nolan’s films is that they are all technically brilliant. Each one of his films are beautiful to look at, capturing the landscape perfectly while displaying excellent camera work to allow the emotions expressed on screen to ring truly resonant. Whatever the budget or setting, Nolan finds inventive ways to tell a story that moviegoers everywhere can latch on to.
Memento may be the best example of Christopher Nolan’s abilities, as it is truly an extraordinary film.
Nolan is squarely the star of Memento as the film’s direction is out of control good. For those unaware of the film’s structure, Memento tells its story by starting at the two extreme ends of the film (the beginning and end) and proceeds to move closer to each other until each story arc meets in the middle. The scenes that come before the middle divergence of the story lines are displayed in black and white while the scenes that are after the divergence are in color and played backwards (i.e. each subsequent scene in the color story line occurs chronologically before the previous scene). The film also cuts back and forth between these story lines.
Now that explanation of the story structure may have made the film sound muddled, but Nolan toes the line with ease, cutting the scenes together to allow to catch on to the structure with ease and get wrapped up in the story. The construction of each scene allows for you as the viewer to get invested in the events of each scene without the movie flipping back and forth too quickly, thus making for a movie viewing experience that is unlike any other. In the wrong hands, Memento could have been an incomprehensible slog that would do more to anger than entertain, but Nolan directs this film to a tee. With his poised directing abilities, the structure of Memento helps to power the rest of the film’s elements to create something that is abundantly satisfying.
However, Memento does not reach its level of critical praise without a committed performance from Guy Pierce. A character who has a psychological ailment can be a tough role to get a handle on for an actor, but Pierce is incredibly enthralling, as he even switches from fully aware of the situation to knowing completely nothing after he loses his memory due to a loud bang or something else startling. His mannerisms change instantly, making you truly believe that he suffers from this condition. Determined in his actions yet sympathetic in his shortcomings, Pierce is the crux of Memento.
I give a ton of credit to Joe Pantoliano who plays the role of Teddy. From the second he comes on screen, you immediately hate his guts as his character is so unbelievably slimy. His manipulative nature is very reminiscent of his role of Cypher in The Matrix.
Unlike many movies today, Memento is a character story with very few bells and whistles. However, the script, written by Christopher Nolan, is so concise and compelling that you never once wish the film was filled with more action or special effects. The way the story unfolds, you receive a little more context to the events of the film with every scene, causing you to become even more intrigued by the characters and their motivations. After a great opening scene that actually flows backward in time, you are completely at the mercy of Christopher Nolan as you unravel his tightly wound narrative.
If you haven’t noticed by now, Memento is a very difficult movie to review without spoiling the most jaw-dropping moments of the film. But what I will say is that way the two story lines come together in such a way that is truly rewarding for anyone who watches. It may be one of the best third acts ever put to film as it is wholly fulfilling while also being very subversive.
In the end, Memento is an inventive film that is unlike any other. It gets an A+. I strongly urge you to watch this film the next time you’re looking for something to watch on Netflix, it may just be Christopher Nolan’s best work, which, considering his filmography, is very high praise.
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