Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #28
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Guy Pearce and Carrie-Anne Moss
I have a Word document right now that I use to keep track of my thoughts on where the movies I watch for this project will eventually fall when I finish this blog and reconsider my list of personal favorite movies. Before tonight, I had only seen Memento once, and it was firmly rooted in the "Only Seen Once, Need to Rewatch and Reconsider" section. After doing just what that category suggest I do earlier this evening, I promptly moved it to the top of the "Entirely Possible, Consideration Needed" section and just shy of the "Locks" section. Christopher Nolan's first studio movie remains a landmark in his filmography and a strong candidate for his best film.
Nolan's films have often been called mindfucks, and depending on your definition, I suppose they are. They're not David Lynch movies or Takashi Miike movies, but in his own slickly produced and hyper-intelligent way, he does boggle the mind. He presents a concept which is presumably unfamiliar to his audience – whether it be short-term memory loss, magic, or lucid shared dreaming – and shines minimal light on it in the precise way that will bend minds when he brings out his big reveals and twists. In Memento, the reality is revealed in tantalizingly short segments that appear in reverse order of their occurrence and are spliced with scenes – shot in striking black and white – of Leonard, our protagonist, talking about his short-term memory loss condition and his situation to an anonymous person on the other end of a hotel room telephone. The story only reveals itself to us in short segments because Leonard can only remember things in short segments, and this device really helps to bring the audience into the movie. The big twist, if you want to call it that, is executed so deftly that even at this early stage in Nolan's career he appears to have the experience of late-era Hitchcock. Unlike someone like M. Night Shyamalan who has become known for his twists and lambasted for the very same, Nolan's have become not only a calling card but a mark of his brilliance as a director. He doesn't live and die by the plot twist, but when he decides to pull one out, it's always well-executed and feels right.
Memento stands out among Nolan's work for two big reasons: its R rating, and its cast of relative unknowns. Both work to its advantage, and both are direct results of the fact that Nolan himself was a relative unknown at the time of its release. While Nolan has gotten amazing performances out of Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Hugh Jackman, Leonardo DiCaprio and a dozen more A-listers, it's a nice, if unnecessary, luxury to be undistracted by the presence of movie stars, especially when tackling the heady subject matter that Nolan is never shy about. Unfortunately, that also makes it one of Nolan's least-seen movies among the masses, which is downright criminal considering how great it is. Memento's protagonist may not have a short-term memory, but the movie will be embedded forever in your long-term memory.
The Good: Nolan's storytelling.
The Bad: Once again, I'm at a loss here. There's just nothing bad about Memento.
The Skinny: Belongs on the list, and belongs very high on the list.