A man, suffering from short-term memory loss, uses notes and tattoos to hunt down his wife’s killer.
The Bottom Line
The intelligent and gripping screenplay and strong cast make this the first “must see” film of 2001.
The Full Review
Leonard Shelby ‘s wife passed away some time ago. Actually, she was murdered. And there’s nothing Leonard can do to ease the pain of this horrific loss. You see, Leonard suffers from this condition in which he is unable to create new memories (the result of having received a severe blow to the head the night of his wife’s murder). Every morning he awakens feeling as if it were the day his wife was murdered. For Leonard, there is no passage of time to heal his pain. Leonard can’t remember to forget.
Leonard Shelby, played to perfection by Guy Pearce (Rules of Engagement, L.A. Confidential), is the central character in a stirring new film called Memento, written and directed by Christopher Nolan. A man who often forgets why he started saying something before he’s finished saying it can only get through life by giving himself a tremendous sense of purpose. For Leonard, this sense of purpose comes in the form of hunting down and killing the man who raped and murdered his wife and left him a victim of severe anterograde memory dysfunction. But what good is purpose, even vengeance, without the proper tools to help one navigate from one moment to the next? Thus, Leonard is forced to compensate for his deficiencies by furiously scribbling notes on scraps of paper, shooting polaroids of people and places he has come across, and tatooing across his body information that is most critical to him (if only poor Leonard had a Palm Pilot).
In one of the most creative and effective uses of non-linear story telling ever in a film (at least that I’ve encountered), Nolan begins Memento at the story’s end and uses the following two hours to bring the audience back and forth through time, ending the film at the story’s beginning. The resulting effect is that the audience is placed in a similar frame of reference to that of Leonard. As each scene unfolds, the audience knows only that things are happening around Leonard, but not exactly why they are happening (clues hidden in the notes and photos shed only the slightest bit of light on the situation at hand). The audience is made acutely aware of just how frustrating Leonard’s condition can be and how helpless it can leave him feeling.
But, Leonard is not alone in his quest to find the elusive “John G____,” the man who murdered his wife. There’s Sammy Jenkis, played by Stephen Tobolowsky (The Insider, Groundhog Day – Ned Ryerson). Sammy is man who Leonard met prior to his wife’s murder when he was working as an insurance investigator (Leonard maintains all of the memories that formed prior to his accident). Sammy, it seems, also suffers from anterograde memory dysfunction. Only, Sammy was never able to get control of it the way Leonard has. Sammy had no purpose in life. He had nothing driving him forward. So everything fell apart for Sammy. Leonard uses his memory of Sammy to keep from slipping into the abyss.
Along the way, we also discover that Leonard has somehow befriended a guy named Teddy, played by Joe Pantoliano (The Sopranos, Risky Business – Guido), and a woman named Natalie, played by Carrie-Anne Moss (Chocolat, The Matrix). Both Teddy and Natalie, who must constantly reintroduce themselves to Leonard, act as if they are trying to help him. Armed only with the notes Leonard has scribbled on the polaroids of these two people, it is apparent that we can trust Natalie and that we cannot trust Teddy. If only we could remember…uhr..uhm…if only we knew the real reason why.
All of this adds up to an entirely compelling story, and one that truly keeps audiences on the edge of their seats for the entire duration of the film. In short, this is one film you will not soon forget!
The film is perfectly cast (Carrie-Anne Moss’s character is the antithesis of the repressed character she played in Chocolat, and Guy Pearce is utterly convincing as the harried and intensely determined Leonard)
Nothing beats a truly original screenplay
Leonard’s condition places him in several highly amusing situations
When the closing credits started rolling
Humor: Several amusing moments (one is highly amusing)
Memento on IMDB