Memento (2000) Movie Review

I can like a movie for a variety of reasons. A movie can be so inventive and new that I just adore it on those basis alone. Or, on the other hand, a movie can be completely inventive and at the same time incredibly entertaining, and I can enjoy it for both of those reasons. The movie “Memento,” British director Christopher Nolan’s second directing effort, is a hell of a good time. I had no idea where the movie was going, and up to the very last frame, I was completely fooled by the director and his brother, the co-writer.

What sets “Memento” apart from other movies with twist endings (ala “Sixth Sense” and the slew of other movies with twist endings for twist ending’s sake) is that the twist ending in “Memento” is completely real and makes sense. Once you see it, everything that’s happened for the last hour and a half all falls into place, and you go, “Oh, right, now it all makes sense.”

Guy Pearce plays Leonard “Lenny” Shelby, an insurance fraud investigator who, after being shot in the head during a break-in that also claims his wife’s life, has lost all ability to retain long-term memory. For instance, every hour is a new life for Lenny. In an effort to remember his own name, his own identity, and to keep a very complex investigation in place, Lenny has to resort to jotting down notes on everything from papers to matchboxes to tattooing important facts on his own body. One of those important facts is his name and what he’s doing waking up inside a dirty motel room all by himself with a gun.

One of Lenny’s tricks is to take Polaroid pictures of everything and everyone. For instance, he’ll have a photo of a man with the words, “Don’t trust him” written on it, warning himself not to trust that person. Things like that make Lenny’s life extremely complicated. What can be worst? Well, Lenny happens to be caught up in a very important investigation — finding the man who murdered his wife, which is very hard to do, when with his problem, Lenny could have located the killer and an hour later be sitting and having coffee with the same man without knowing who he was.

Just by the paragraph above, I hope I’ve piqued your interest in this film. It is an extremely worthwhile film, but I can see how some people may feel a little disoriented at the beginning. A South Korean movie called “Peppermint Candy” employed the same narrative technique as “Memento” — the backwards chronology, meaning the actions within the movie take place from the end of the movie and goes backwards in time to the beginning. Whereas “Peppermint Candy” goes backwards over several decades, the action within “Memento” only goes back to one day, and thus is a little easier to adjust to and understand. The first time we see Lenny, he’s just executed a man in a dark, damp basement, and the rest of the movie involves us, the viewer, learning who that person was, and why Lenny has just shot him point-blank.

The movie also stars Carrie-Anne Moss as Natalie, a bartender who may or may not be a friend of Lenny’s, and may or may not have his interests at heart. She may or may not be using him, and then again, she could be the killer of Lenny’s wife. You see, Lenny’s memories are a little fuzzy — which makes sense, since the man can’t even remember his own name, and has paid for his motel room every other hour until the manager decides to take pity on him and not accept his money anymore. You should get the point by now that guys like Lenny, in his current state, is very easy to take advantage of.

So how does Lenny make sure he’s not being jerked around? Well, for one, he’s extremely smart. Hence the tattoos and Polaroids. And secondly, Lenny has help from Teddy, played by the always-engaging Joe Pantoliano. With Teddy’s help, Lenny tries to piece together the mystery of who killed his wife and why.

Or is Teddy trying to take advantage of Lenny, too?

Christopher Nolan (director) / Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan (screenplay)
CAST: Guy Pearce….Leonard ‘Lenny’ Shelby
Carrie-Anne Moss….Natalie
Joe Pantoliano …. Teddy

Buy Memento on DVD