Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Memento (2001)

In Adaptation, Robert McKee (played by Brian Cox) states that one of the cardinal rules of screenwriting is to never, ever use voice-over, as it cheapens the story and the characters. I don't entirely agree with this statement; sure, there are plenty of examples of films that could have easily gone without narration, but there are also plenty of films that are improved by it. And then, of course, there are films like Memento, in which voice-over is more than just a look into Leonard's (Guy Pearce) thoughts; its absolutely necessary to the film in that without it, the film would be a spectacular mess.
Memento is about Leonard's attempt to find and kill John G, the man who raped and killed his wife. But Leonard has a major problem: he suffers from anterograde amnesia, a condition that prevents him from creating new memories. As a result, he has information tattooed into his skin, as well as pictures that serve to remind him about what he's doing. Along the way, two people, Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) and Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss), help him out along the way, but are they actually helping him, or using him?
The film's structured in a way that the story is told in reverse through flashback. The central mystery isn't the result, but rather what events happened along the way. With a screenplay written by Christopher Nolan, based on a short story by his brother, Jonathan, the film presents an interesting idea: Leonard actually has most of the information he needs to find John G., but because of his condition, he has to take a circuitous route to the answer. Its a fascinating experiment in filmmaking, and credit Nolan for crafting such an engaging mystery. He uses Teddy and Natalie to toy not only with Leonard's perception of events but also ours, since we only know what Leonard knows. As such, the film is a great deconstruction of audience perception, and Nolan explores this idea like a true cinematic master (its with this film that Nolan broke into the mainstream, and is perhaps the most straight-forward example of his fascination with men with altered mental states).
Leonard (Pearce) reminisces...and forgets.....
Nolan also shows a great directoral flair, staging everything as an intricate psychological mouse trap. Wally Pfister's cinematography (this is his first of many collaborations with Nolan) is also fantastic, choosing to alternate between black-and-white and color, depending on whether or not the scene is a flashback. There's an inventiveness to how the stages the events, constantly leaving the view guessing.
Memento is a must-see film. If you haven't seen it yet, make sure you do. You certainly won't regret it.
PS I did a Memento-related post back in April, which you can check out here.

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