(United States, 2000)
Memento is a dizzying, amazing motion picture that can be seen multiple times without ever losing its appeal or luster. Some have argued that the film's lone strength is its backwards-moving construction, but making an assertion like that does a great disservice to the movie's many other strong elements. I would argue that Memento holds up well even if watched in strict chronological order (something that can be done using the DVD). The storyline itself, once stripped of director Christopher Nolan's unique approach, retains the power to intrigue and enthrall. The structure merely makes it more oblique, challenging, and edgy. I can't ever recall having engaged in deeper or more impassioned conversations about a film than those held in the wake of a showing of Memento. It's a motion picture that encourages everyone to talk – whether to espouse theories or ask questions. Many might query the placement of such a recent film on an all-time list, but, to me, there's no question that it belongs here. I can't see the so-called "test of time" diminishing Memento's impact. It is arguably the first truly great movie of the new century (despite carrying a "2000" date, it was released theatrically in 2001), and, no matter how many films I see during the rest of my life, Memento will always stand out.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
Memento stars Austalian actor Guy Pearce as Leonard Shelby, a former insurance investigator and crime victim who is trying to find the man who raped and murdered his wife (Jorja Fox). His goal is simple - he wants revenge through execution. Nothing less will satisfy him. But there's a small matter that complicates Leonard's investigation. He has no short term memory. During the attack that ended his wife's life, Leonard suffered brain damage. Now, although his long-term memory is fine, he can't remember any recent events. He can meet the same person a hundred times and won't know their name or who they are. To combat his condition, Leonard relies upon a series of annotated Polaroid snapshots - not exactly the ideal tool by which to seek out a killer who even the police can't locate. Along the way, Leonard is aided (or perhaps hindered) by the ubiquitous Teddy (Joe Pantoliano), who is always on hand to offer advice, and he becomes involved with the mysterious Natalie (Carrie-Ann Moss), whose motives may not be as straightforward as they initially appear to be.
Memento has a great premise, but its strengths don't stop there. In fact, what really distinguishes this film is its brilliant, innovative structure. Director Christopher Nolan has elected to tell the story backwards. He starts at the end and finishes near the beginning. The main narrative is presented as a series of three-to-eight minute segments, each of which ends where the previous one began. By presenting events in Memento backwards, Nolan allows us to get into the mindset of the main character. And, although it might seem that an approach which reveals the story's conclusion in the first five minutes would lack tension, that's far from the case. Memento builds to a surprising yet completely logical finale, and there's plenty of suspense along the way to keep the viewer riveted.
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