directed by Christopher Nolan
(Columbia TriStar, 2000)

Leonard Shelby is an ex-insurance investigator out to avenge the brutal rape and murder of his wife.

Or so he says.

It's not always easy to believe Shelby (Guy Pearce), because, as he explains nearly a dozen times in the course of Memento, he has no short-term memory. It was erased the night he walked into the bathroom and found his wife's body on the bathroom floor. A blow to the back of his head knocked him out and left him without the ability to form new memories.

Or so he says.

In order to function, Shelby has turned himself into a walking bulletin board. He writes down everything he needs to know, sometimes on index cards, sometimes on his own body, sometimes on the backs of Polaroids he takes of the people whose names he needs to remember.

It's a select but important circle of people, including an undercover agent named Teddy who may or may not be helping him find his wife's killer, a dude named Dodd who may or may not be trying to kill Shelby, and a barmaid named Natalie who may or may not be using Shelby's memory loss to her own advantage.

Clearly, there's only one way to follow a movie like this: take notes.

Memento is a tour de force for writer-director Christopher Nolan and only his second feature-length film. From the opening sequence, in which a man's hand shakes a Polaroid that fades rather than develops while a low somber chord hangs in the air around him, viewers know they're in for something offbeat. What follows does not disappoint: a tortuous journey through a series of interrelated mysteries that solving doesn't seem to help.

Three things add to the fun. First, there's the plot, which is -- or seems to be -- shown in sequence, but not the sequence you're expecting.

Then there's the casting. Pearce is picture-perfect, whether he's playing the revenge-bent innocent or the rising young insurance investigator who's willing to see someone's life go down the tubes if it saves his company money or gains him a promotion. And Moss and Pantoliano match him line for line as the people caught up in his game of Who Do You Trust.

And there's the camerawork, done in both black-and-white and color, which forever traps Memento between rich-hued, sunlit streets and shadowy hallways and bathrooms.

At its most succinct, Memento is an extended exercise in intellectual vertigo, an open-ended debate over the merits of fact vs. memory.

It's confusing, by design, and full of ironic insights into life in the 21st century, some voiced by Shelby, some simply implied. And oh, yes. It's one heck of a suspense thriller.

Some films bear watching more than once. Memento all but requires it.

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]
Rambles: 28 April 2002

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