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Film Review: Memento

Anna wraps her mind around an essential new release

I don’t want to give too much away about Memento considering how the narrative takes a staggeringly intriguing form. .. but if you are someone who reads reviews I suppose you don’t like to experience a movie in the innocent way that I do, so I’ll say a little and hopefully enough to exorcise the questions it left me with.

Still from Memento, directed by Christopher Nolan ?nigeB ot erehW.... Ok, I’m dropping the writing backward idea. Strangely enough, I went to see Memento (otnemeM) straight after reading a clever little passage in Arundati Roy’s 'The God of Small Things', where the children make fun of reversing stories and quirky cool palindromes (such as ‘Madam i'm Adam’ or 'No it is open on one position'). I thought, upon the opening sequence of this innovative movie (a number of slowed minutes where everything runs from end to start) that the whole film was going to be a mass of confusion... like a two hour version of the ‘Return to innocence’ video. Then I remembered what English sounds like backwards and realised swiftly that not a sane soul could unravel that language.

It's not so confusing then but you definitely need to keep you eyes on this one, or be able to think back about what you saw ten minutes ago and question the present piece. Ironic that you need a good memory for a film about a man who has “this condition”, an inability to make new memories. Can you imagine what that would be like? Never making new friends, new love, new experiences. For Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearse), the real world is the past. A life which was taken from him by what he claims were two intruders, who stole his wife and his memory. The present continuous is of fleeting insignificance. Irrelevant. Forgotten in the blink of the eye.

Memento brings forth questions of trust. Can we rely on our own memory or on other people’s information and understanding of a situation? If you act on what a friend has told you, and not what you have witnessed for yourself, couldn’t you be wrong? Shelby is an avenger, on a quest to find and kill the man who raped and murdered his wife. He remembers this task only by looking at a number of “freaky” tattoos, facts about the killer inscribed all over his body. How he remembers the day-to-day necessities such as where do I live, who I need to know, or which is my car, is by looking through hand written notes and the ever so helpful Polaroid photographs.

If any of you saw 'Run Lola Run' director, Tom Twyker’s 'Winter Sleepers', the ‘unscrupulous man without a memory-come photographer caught in a murder case’ story will be very familiar. In Memento two supporting characters beg our moral examination – Nathalie ( ‘She has also lost someone. She will help you out of pity’) and Teddy (‘Do not believe his lies’). It becomes quite obvious from early on in this puzzle that Shelby, though smart and extremely effective in handling his ‘condition’, is at the mercy of those he encounters. He relies on FACTS but unfortunately it is quite difficult to determine any certainties in this world when it comes to other people, and sometimes even ourselves. The question at the heart of this movie for me was one of morality and instinct. Surely if goodness was something innate (I hear Nietzsche’s voice), and not the result of fear of consequence and guilt, then the loss of short-term memory could not change the heart of a man. Even on the final moment of Memento, you will be asking yourself who is in the wrong. Is Shelby to be pitied or judged? You may (as I did) leave feeling ‘I want more’ and if this happens I strongly advise taking a look at the fantastic official website, which is sure to send more shivers than the actual movie. Hospital reports, hand written thought twisting notes from an ‘unknown influence’, creepy soundbites from the movie and yes, those Polaroids, all serve to make this tale a little too real.

In the renaissance a Memento Mori was a reminder of mortality... For Shelby the photo may be an innocent ‘something to remember you by’, a frozen moment, a keepsake essential for survival on his dangerous investigative journey. It could also be the lie of a lens, of the light; an image and not the object. A representation which really tells us nothing about the person and their capabilities or the circumstances surrounding the pictured moment. The director makes good use of ellipses and slowly unravels the mystery with his time-line hopping narrative, while you concentrate to the point of a headache. Expect a Fight Club- esque revelation.

Can you trust your enemy?
Can you trust yourself?
Can you believe the mind that wrote the note?
Does the world disappear when you close your eyes?

A note on the movie, such as this, can’t tell you more. Go, see and ask yourself.

Anna Keeling

(bullet) Check out the official memento website

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