If one film seems destined to break out of the pack in 2001, it’s the quite brilliant “Memento.” If ever there was a fresh approach to one man’s personal hell, it’s this one.
The Hell in question is that of Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce from “L.A. Confidential”). He used to be a San Francisco insurance investigator until one night in 1997 when two masked men broke into his house. After Leonard walked in as his wife was being raped and strangled, a blow to the head knocked him out, only to awaken into his new personal Hell. What happened is this: the head trauma caused an unusual condition where Leonard was no longer able to convert short-term experience into long-term memory. Not only would he not know where he was when waking up, but a pause in any conversation could wipe out knowledge of the rest. What he does possess is all of his long-term memories from before the injury, which of course end with the attack on his wife.
How Leonard gets by is with a large, accumulated group of notes. They can be little messages that he scrawled to himself on any scrap of paper, Polaroids, or seemingly important information he had tattooed on his body.
Now the brilliance of this film is in its design. Chronologically, it begins at the end. We see Leonard read one of his notes and kill a man. From that point, each scene reveals what occurred before the previous one as we trace back in time to find out how many of these notes were made. At the beginning of the film, our hero has a lot of such notes to himself. The sense of purpose that keeps him going comes from the one tattooed across his chest telling him to avenge his wife and kill the man who raped and murdered her. Of course, due to his condition, Leonard has no idea how much time has elapsed since his wife died and wouldn’t be able to remember such vengeance if he ever did claim it. Subsequent revelations also call into question nearly every other aspect of Leonard, from the meaning and validity of many of his notes and existing memories, to the people who claim to be his friends, and even several other important details I’m not going to spoil.
Director and co-writer Christopher Nolan, who had made a splash at Slamdance ’99 with his debut “Following,” has created a neo-noir masterpiece. I repeat: A MASTERPIECE. Almost nothing about this film is ever predictable. It’s all extremely engrossing though, and no film more deserves to be the breakout hit of 2001. A lot of hot young directing talent has broken out in the last two years. Now Christopher Nolan is on the list.
Read FILM THREAT’s exclusive interview with the director right now! Click on over to CHRISTOPHER NOLAN’S MEMENTO>>>