Lenny (Guy Pearce) can’t remember anything since his wife’s death. Suffering from a rare form of amnesia he finds it impossible to form any short term memories which has led to a dependence on polaroids, tattoos and those around him filling in any blanks these may create.
Having to endure the pain of coming to terms with his loss again and again there is only one thing Lenny is certain of; his wife’s killer, James G, must pay for his crime. The only thing standing in Lenny’s way, of course, is that he is incapable of creating new memories. Enter Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) and Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss), two people who claim to know all about Lenny and his life, two people intent on offering their help whether he realises or not.
Memento is a characteristically Nolan film; it takes several viewings to fully understand and appreciate, it begins with the end and doesn’t exactly provide a linear story. That is not to say that the viewer is left completely in the dark. Instead they are presented with one chronological storyline, filmed entirely in black and white, where Lenny presents his problem to a mystery caller. Abandoning his dislike of telephone conversations he explains all about the mysterious case of Sammy Jenkins, a man who seemingly suffered the same mental fate as himself. In remembering Sammy Jenkins Lenny finds it easier to cope with (and try to overcome) his condition. The film itself unfolds reversed around this singular conversation, providing audiences with the film’s skeletal conclusion, gradually beefing up its components.
Memento is, essentially, a massive whodunnit with the added questions of whoishe and whyishe. Even after watching the film several times most answers are blurred but it is the unravelling of such mysteries that is the film’s greatest strength. You suspend your disbelief at the lengths Lenny is willing to go to catch his wife’s killer (does he not know of the permanency of tattoos?) and are instead absorbed by his fractured mind and story. Having to piece together his life much like he has to himself, viewers are not only forced to empathise with Lenny but also to help him discover the truth.
As well as providing a intricate story, the film also makes some interesting comments on the reliability of facts versus the reliability of memory. With Lenny having to put an increasing amount of faith into what he is told the pliability of his memory is revealed. This is something that he seems to be aware of, stating ‘the world doesn’t just disappear when you close you eyes’ as, unfortunately for him, although the world may not disappear, it often changes without his knowing.
If, even after several viewings, you’re still not quite sure of the outcome of the film then there is hope – hidden away on the DVD edition of Memento is a special feature which allows the film to watched in a chronological order. Although it takes away the thrill of the film it may quieten some nagging concerns left behind after watching its gloriously intricate, if sometimes confusing, tale.
Best line: ‘Can’t remember to forget you’.
Best performance: Although Guy Pearce’s performance is excellent, Joe Pantoliano’s Teddy is enthrallingly ambiguous.
Watch this if you liked: Inception, Following.
Nolan had Alec Baldwin in mind for the part of Lenny. Interestingly despite its intricacy filming for the film only took 25 days.