Leonard (Guy Pearce) is tracking down the man who raped and murdered his wife. The difficulty, however, of locating his wife’s killer is compounded by the fact that he suffers from a rare, untreatable form of memory loss. Although he can recall details of life before his accident, Leonard cannot remember what happened fifteen minutes ago, where he’s going, or why.
Memento is the movie that launched Christopher Nolan into the spotlight as a talent to pay attention to, even 5 years before his Batman reboot with Batman Begins. I already really liked it when I first saw it some years ago, it’s a psychological mystery thriller so effectively made on pretty much every level, truly something incredible to watch. On a more recent viewing though, I loved it even more. 20 years later, Memento remains an extraordinary piece of filmmaking.
Much of Memento is very difficult to talk about, if I talked in too much depth about the plot it would be so easy to spoil, and for this movie particularly I want to keep spoilers to a minimum. I can talk about some things though, first of all with the structure. This movie is told over two timelines, one taking place at the end of the story working backwards and the other at the beginning moving forwards. On a first viewing, it’s very likely that this’ll be a confusing watch for some, for me though I was very intrigued throughout, even if I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening until it all came together at the end. It’s actually incredible that they made this structure actually work for the story, and not make it feel like a gimmick, it really fits in with the lead character’s condition. I also get the feeling that it doesn’t hold up as well when watching the movie with the scenes in chronological order, and this storytelling method actually works excellently. When you watch the movie on a second viewing however, it’s a whole difference experience as you know generally what it’s leading to. It’s been a while since I first saw it, but I had a vague idea about the story, and that made me see every scene completely differently. I can imagine that my opinion of this film will only improve the more I rewatch it.
Guy Pearce gives probably one of his best performances of his career in the lead role of Leonard, who has this memory condition. It’s a very complex and layered character that Pearce plays excellently. Carrie Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano are the main supporting actors and they do well, playing prominent characters in the plot that you’re not sure whether you or Leonardo should trust or not.
Memento is Christopher Nolan’s second film, and the difference on a technical level between this film and his directorial debut with Following is vast. Even from this one movie you can clearly tell that he’s a master at his craft. It’s not one of the expansive blockbusters that he’s been making since the late 2000s, but that’s not the type of story Memento is going for, and his work here is outstanding. It’s very well shot by Wall Pfister, the black and white for the older storyline worked effectively too, especially for distinguishing itself from the other storyline.
Memento is a fantastic neo-noir mystery thriller, well acted, and excellently written and directed by Christopher Nolan. It only improves from repeat viewings, and still holds up as an incredibly impressive film. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a film to see as soon as possible without knowing too much going in, and if you’ve only seen it once, definitely see it again at some point. As it is, it might be one of Nolan’s best movies, and that’s saying a lot considering how great most of his films are.