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Memento (2000)

October 9, 2009

10/10 Brain Farts

I feel like this movie has gone from cutting edge to overrated over the past nine years, but I don’t care. This might be in my Top 5 and it’s not moving anytime soon.

Memento is about a guy named Leonard who’s searching for John G. –  the man who raped and murdered his wife. Only Leonard has a problem. The night his wife was killed he got knocked around in the process trying to help her, and ever since then he hasn’t been able to form new memories; he remembers everything about his life before that night, but everything after that just kinda goes blank at various times throughout the day, forcing him to start from scratch to figure out what’s going on. To keep things straight, he tattoos important information all over his body, carries around a Polaroid camera at all times, and goes off the testimonies of others that are either helping him or manipulating him or both.

It’s actually pretty hard to describe the whole memory thing without seeing it action, but trust me, it’s a completely fresh and intriguing twist on the thriller genre and it is just freakin’ brilliant.

Now, maybe I’m just rolling with the wrong crowd, but it seems like whenever I talk to people about this movie they don’t always share the same kind of enthusiasm for it as I do. The main reason for this actually always goes back to how the story is told in that it goes back and forth from chronological (the start of the story) to reverse chronological order (the end of the story) with each new scene and at the end of the two hours, it all comes together at the story’s center. The resulting effect is that every scene there’s a new reveal about the plot, the characters, and what’s going on so that you’re figuring out everything out very much in the same way Leonard does. You’re starting from scratch, you think you know what’s going on, but then again, life is tough when you can’t remember where and what you were doing five seconds ago.

I was talking about this with one of my old teachers a while back and he said that there’s a feature on the limited edition DVD (or something like that) where you can watch the movie from start to finish all in good old chronological order without having to rack your brain trying to tie everything together. He said that when the movie loses the whole back and forth element, it ends up being just an unspectacular, meh thriller.

Though I’ve never seen Memento like this, and while it’s something I should probably get around to doing one of these days, this movie is not meant to be seen that way. The biggest reason being that the intended ending of the movie rolls around an hour into the movie in this case and I can only imagine that the last hour after that must be pretty dull.


I can understand how some may write off the back and forth as a gimmick, but whatever, gimmick or not, it’s never been done before and it’s a hallmark of storytelling in film. It almost sounds like the way Pulp Fiction was put together, and while the influence is there, Memento‘s plot structure is very much its own. And just because you have a gimmick doesn’t mean you have a good movie. On top of it all, the story is fantastic, the gimmick itself just makes you want to keep watching it, and by the time the ending rolls around, you’ll probably want to go and watch it all over again.

Look, Christopher Nolan is one of the best working directors out there today and even though I still think this is his best movie, everything the guy touches is a stroke of brilliance. The acting is also pretty solid, Leonard is played by Guy Pearce, and I think he’s pretty darn good here, though this was before I started realizing he kinda plays the same character in every movie. The writing is sharp and incredibly smart, and it’s just an all-around great movie to watch, enjoy, and marvel at.

The point is, otnemeM ees oG. There’s only a handful of movies I’ve willingly watched more times than I care to remember and hell yeah this is one of them.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. October 9, 2009 2:58 am

    This is probably my favourite film ever, and I agree with everything you said. Your teacher was right though; I’ve got that DVD and it just doesn’t work when told start to finish. The structure makes the movie

    Oh, and welcome to the LAMB!!!

  2. October 9, 2009 9:52 am

    One of my all-time faves as well, and I’d disagree with your prof that said seeing it in the correct order turns it into a pedestrian movie. It’s STILL the story of a guy who has no short-term memory, and that in its own right is a very intriguing story.

    Try to track down the edition of the DVD that allows you to watch it chronologically…I’m truly curious to know what you think.

  3. Marc permalink
    October 9, 2009 10:57 am

    As much as I LOVE this movie, I have to point out one huge flaw…If Leonard has no short term memory recollection…how does he remember his “condition”??

  4. Branden permalink
    October 9, 2009 2:01 pm

    This is in my Top Ten Films for 2001. When I first saw the film, I hated the backward structure of the film. I still do, but I think that I enjoyed the movie more to trump my distaste for reverse narratives.

    Guy Pearce was great as well as Joey Pants.

    • October 9, 2009 2:21 pm

      Haha, thank you for referring to him as Joey Pants.

      • Branden permalink
        October 9, 2009 2:37 pm

        It’s easier to spell than Joe Pantaliano. (spelling?)

  5. Nahuel permalink
    October 9, 2009 6:17 pm

    I saw the title Memento, and I thought: this better not have anything less than a 10 out of 10 or I will be thoroughly upset…

    Great shit man, your site has yet to disappoint me.

  6. Tom permalink
    February 2, 2014 12:47 am

    Looks like I’m arriving to this party late, but I did just watch this a couple weeks ago and man was I blown away. I freaking love Chris Nolan’s work, and I too subscribe to the notion that everything he touches turns to gold (I was one of the fans of Man of Steel as a testament to that 🙂 ). I’ll need to get around to seeing this again because it is pretty confusing, but a brilliant set-up deserves repeat viewings.


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