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Must-See Movie Reviews From Before the Grave

Memento (2000)

"I have this condition..."

Christopher Nolan's sophomore effort tells the tale of Leonard Shelby; an ex-insurance investigator now suffering from short term memory loss. Despite this handicap, he attempts to find the man who murdered his wife with the help of two strangers with mysterious intentions. The scenes in this film are ordered in reverse, revealing more information each time.


Initial Impressions:

Simon: Memento (like all Chris Nolan films) is one of my favorites. Not only is it one of the most creatively filmed, it's also one of the most intriguing. And a brilliant twist on the standard revenge thriller trope. I really don't need an excuse to watch this film again, but I'm glad I have one!


Bennett: Having made a complete mockery of myself the last time watching this film by very strongly declaring I had figured out the movie by claiming that one of the main characters was, in fact, not real (shouting and dancing around Simon's basement may have taken place on my part), I look forward to redeeming myself in my second viewing of this film.


Simon's Take:


It's hard to talk about a film like 'Memento' without giving the illusion that it's extremely confusing.  It isn't--at least not in the conventional sense. So please bear with me while I break down how the film works. Memento is made up of two storylines; the first is told in reverse, starting from the end of the story (the first scene of the movie) all the way to the beginning of the story (the last scene of the movie). With me so far? The second storyline moves forward in time normally, from the beginning to the end, and its scenes are woven in between the scenes of the first one to prevent jarring transitions. It's also in black and white to help you figure out which one you're watching.  By the end of the movie (with one narrative going forwards and another going backwards in the same space of time), eventually both storylines converge, and we're left with one story. Each storyline tells a different part of the story at large, but both deal with a man named Leonard Shelby. Leonard suffers from a condition (the result of a head injury) that makes him unable to create new memories. The last thing he remembers is his wife's death at the hand of an unknown assailant.  It's a revenge thriller, so it's easy to tell where the story goes from here. What differentiates Memento from the average revenge thriller is the fact that it IS told in reverse.  None of the secondary characters get properly introduced, and their motivations are unclear. Anything prior to the events of what you're currently watching are a complete mystery.  This sense of disorientation is incredible, and works perfectly for this type of film, as it makes you feel like its main character: not knowing any of the events leading up to this moment.  To top it off, Memento still manages to deliver a shocker of a plot twist at the end (beginning?) of the movie (however the twist is NOT that one of the characters doesn't exist. Much to Bennett's dismay).  Due to the unusual narrative of the story, the plot morphs and changes with every scene as you suddenly realize the reasons behind some of the events in the earlier scenes.  It's this type of filmmaking the keeps Memento consistently engaging.  The confusion doesn't dampen the experience, because it really feels like the film is delivering on a "twist-a-minute" premise.  And your perception of the secondary characters will change radically by the end of the film.  It's a film that lives up to the idea of "nothing is as it seems." The story is very intelligent as well. It does an excellent job of illustrating the predicament of only being able to remember a few minutes of the past at a time.  All of Leonard's information is stored on polaroid photographs, countless notes, and even his body in the form of tattoos. This is enhanced by the way the film is made as well, as you begin to rely on these methods to fill in the blanks.  And it gives the movie yet another way to toss in twist and turns.  "Why was this particular note written?" is a common thought, as, like Leonard, you're presented with information you don't know the source of. The film was written by the powerhouse team that is the Nolan brothers, whose collaboration gave us films like 'The Dark Knight' and 'The Prestige'.  Memento may not be as well known, but it contains the same mind-bending elements that make their subsequent efforts great.  While there is very little to say that's negative about this film, I didn't find it to be quite as mind-blowing to watch on the subsequent revisits.  When the entire gimmick of the film is not know what's going to happen next, being given that knowledge tends to make the viewing feel a bit routine.  However, if you haven't seen this movie before,  you're in for a treat.  Few films can match Memento's cerebral depth or it's ability to consistently surprise it's audience. Recommended!


Pros:

- One-of-a-kind story progression
- Oodles of plot twists
- Highly intelligent


Cons:

- Not quite as entertaining when rewatched


Bennett's Take:


I am confused. Very confused. I know this goes directly against what Simon said, but he is of a higher intelligence than myself and can comprehend things far beyond my capabilities. Regardless, I enjoyed this film--despite its confusing nature. I must note however, the confusingness (yes, I made that up) is a good confusingness as it constantly keeps you guessing (duh). In most films, you speculate on the future of the characters, but in Memento's case, you wonder about their past.
I really do not have much to say about this movie, because even after a second viewing I could not give a great synopsis of the plot. I have my hypotheses, but there is no right answer as far as I can tell. I must mention, however, that I took pleasure in attempting to figure the plot line out as it unfolded backwards. Because everything changes so quickly, and as scenes are brief and leave just enough information to proceed developing the story line, the movie is very entertaining. However, at times the cycle can feel repetitive (thought the plot twists are quite redemptive).
Although I was unable to understand a single thing the first time I watched, and I failed to figure it out during my second kick at the can (I did move past my hypothesis of characters not existing), here are some clues to help you while you watch--it will make the movie much more enjoyable in the process, and keep you from making mistakes similar to mine: read the tattoos and try to remember them. They will aid you greatly. The photos are also of great importance. And make sure you approach the movie with an open mind, ready to think.
My first viewing was an exhilarating time experiencing filming methods I had never seen before. The second go around was almost equally exciting as I immersed myself into the mystery of a very forgetful man. Make sure you watch this one at least once for a good time, but make sure to watch it with friends; the plot twists always make for great discussion following the film.


Pros:

-Confusing
-Amazing plot twists
-Makes you think


Cons:

-Can be repetitive


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  • Patti

    Momento – one of my favourites.

    Love the site and the idea for it.
    Lots on the list that come attached with great memories. For me that is.
    I meant to check if my first movie theatre experience was one there – Herbie The Love Bug.

    And you two youths, so many will be first-times for you. Have fun.
    P

  • Jake Shelton

    Momento was kinda boring. Strongly lacked basic psychological problems within the human mind, the overall story was loosely portrayed over a man with a mental disorder for memory loss.

    • http://simonhull.com Simon Hull

      Yeah It’s kind of a movie that can only be done once. And the whole story was built around the ‘Movie in reverse’ premise. So I know what you mean. I find the film brilliant from the standpoint of trying something completely new and original. And succeeding on a lot of counts.

      Thanks for your comment!