There is no doubt that director Christopher Nolan is one of those directors that many do watch out for, as he has proven himself time after time again with his films, from “Inception” to his “Dark Knight” Trilogy. However, oddly enough, I always maintained that my favorite Nolan film was “The Prestige”, that is, until I managed to finally see his 2000 film, “Memento”.
Based on Jonathan Nolan’s short story “Memento Mori”, the film tells the story of a man suffering from anterograde amnesia named Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), as he tries to search for people who killed his wife and caused his amnesia. (By the way, Jonathan Nolan has a very special place in my heart as he created “Person of Interest”. He also created “Westworld”, which is airing on HBO at the moment). Along the way, he is aided by his friends- a man named Teddy (Joe Pantoliano), and a bartender named Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss).
Now, based on this premise, one might thing that this will just be another run of the mill murder mystery revenge story. However, this film is so much more than that, as it is told in a very unconventional fashion, and its twists and turns will leave the viewers, in the end, a little bit conflicted. I do not know if it was wise for me to dive into the film blindly, but I think that this film was the start of Christopher Nolan blowing his viewer’s minds away by his brilliance.
WARNING: SPOILERS WILL ABOUND FROM THIS POINT ONWARDS.
This film is definitely unconventional from the get go, and doesn’t pretend to be so, right from the very beginning. First of all, Leonard’s anterograde amnesia causes him to forget things easily, so he writes down notes on Polaroid pictures that he takes, and tattoos important clues related to the murder and rape of his wife onto his body so that he won’t forget. These serve as clues which surprise Leonard and the viewer every time a new clue is shown. Everything, however, seems to point to one person- a man named John G.
Another thing that makes this film unique is the fact that it is told in two different ways, and told backwards.
One part of the story is told in black and white, in which Leonard, who used to be an insurance investigator, talks to someone on the phone about his condition and about a man he had met due to his old job named Sammy Jankis, who had the same condition as him. Later on, it is narrated that Sammy’s diabetic wife, decided to test whether he was faking or not, and reset her watch every few minutes to remind Sammy that she needed her shot. Unfortunately, Sammy was not faking that he did not remember giving her a shot a few minutes prior, and she ended up in a fatal coma. The last black and white sequence shows Leonard meeting a man, whom we, during the course of the film, know as Teddy.
The black and white sequences are mixed in the colored sequences, which show the events that led up to the very first scene of the film, which shows Leonard killing Teddy, whose real name is John Edward Gammell, and is a corrupt cop. What is wonderful about these black and white and colored sequences is that at a certain point, they meet, and then things start to become a little bit clearer for the viewer. Also, it has been said that the reason why the sequence of events is like this is because the viewers, in a sense, are experiencing what Leonard is experiencing, and to sympathize with his situation. This emotion is also drummed up when one realizes that even Natalie has already taken advantage of his inability to remember things.
It is precisely because of this backwards sequence that the viewer ends up becoming totally immersed into the film, and becomes almost one with Leonard, which only helps heighten the effect and emotions that the viewer feels after discovering the truth behind Leonard’s life-long quest for revenge.
At the intersection where the black and white sequences fade into the colored sequences, Teddy, after Leonard kills Jimmy G (Larry Holden), Natalie’s drug-dealing boyfriend whom Leonard thinks is the man he has been looking for all this time, reveals that he (Teddy), was the cop who had been assigned to Leonard’s case and that they had actually killed the real John G. a year ago. Now, he has just been using Leonard to get rid of men whose names are John G, or have the same initials. He then revealed that Leonard’s story of Sammy Jankis was actually Leonard’s story, who had decided to make it up in order to cover up his guilt for accidentally putting his diabetic wife into a coma, after they had both survived the attack. In the end, Teddy reveals that he is also a John G.
Infuriated, and still conscious of what he is doing, Leonard burns the picture of a dead Jimmy and makes a note on Teddy’s photograph to not trust him, as Leonard makes Teddy his next victim. He also tells Teddy that he would rather be a “dead guy than be a killer”, and drives off holding a note with the license plate number of Teddy’s car in his hands. As he arrives at the tattoo parlor, he forgets everything again, leading up to the scene earlier in the film at a tattoo parlor, and starting up the events that would lead to Leonard killing Teddy at the beginning of the film.
At this point, I became conflicted about what to think about Leonard, because even if I cannot fault him for not remembering about the fact that he consciously manipulated himself to believe certain things, I felt horrified at the fact that consciously made Teddy, who, granted, wasn’t a saint, his next victim.
As I said earlier, it is this moment that you get thrown off balance, as you have spent the entire film invested and sympathetic to this character whom you are now very horribly morally conflicted over. (Also, it is at this point that my mind was utterly blown away.)
Aside from the great acting, writing and direction, this film ended up reminding me that we all have those moments, in which in one small action can make or break somebody’s life. It also reminded me about the sad reality that sometimes, we would rather believe in something else that isn’t true, when we cannot accept certain facts about ourselves, and so that we can believe that we are doing is justified and is the right thing to do.
Rating: 10/10 (I think that alongside “The Prestige” and “The Dark Knight”, this film is going into my top ten favorite films of all time).
Favorite Episode/Scene or Quote/s: The last few scenes of the movie.
” I’m not a killer. I’m just someone who wanted to make things right. Can’t I just let myself forget what you’ve told me? Can’t I just let myself forget what you’ve made me do. You think I just want another puzzle to solve? Another John G. to look for? You’re John G. So you can be my John G… Will I lie to myself to be happy? In your case Teddy… yes I will.”
“I have to believe in a world outside my own mind. I have to believe that my actions still have meaning, even if I can’t remember them. I have to believe that when my eyes are closed, the world’s still there. Do I believe the world’s still there? Is it still out there?… Yeah. We all need mirrors to remind ourselves who we are. I’m no different….Now, where was I?”
-Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce)