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Memento (2000)

  Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Guy Pearce
Links: Memento on the IMDb, Official site, Buy on Video, Buy on DVD
Genre: Suspense/Horror/Thriller

This movie gets: 9.33 (3 ratings) Ranking: Ranked equal 10th of 187 movies (2 ratings minimum; see full chart)

Memento (2000) is also mentioned in pearly's review of 21 Grams (2003), mino's review of 50 First Dates (2004), em_fiction's review of Animal Factory (2000), pearly's review of Insomnia (2002), timchuma's review of Oldboy (2003), pearly's review of The Perfect Daughter (1996) and pearly's review of Under the Radar (2004).

"Not just a party trick" - a review by mino

Movies whose whole existence hinges on a ‘gimmick’ are always a worry. You know the sort of thing — told from an unusual point of view, or filmed in an odd way, or even something totally gimmicky, like the four-way split-screen in Timecode (2000) a few years back. Sometimes, they work; a lot of the time, you think maybe they should have spent a few extra bucks on a script, rather than trying to foist off their one-trick movie on the poor moviegoing public.

Memento's gimmick, in case you've been living in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan for the last few years, is that it's told backwards. We start with the last scene, chronologically speaking, and after a couple of minutes jump back to before the first scene started. A couple of minutes later, we jump back even further, and so on. The story is that of an odd bod named Leonard (the amazing Guy Pearce), who has suffered permanent short-term memory loss after a brutal assault on his wife. Determined to avenge her death, he has the slight problem that he can't make new memories — the last thing he can remember is his wife's rape and murder. Anything after that — well, he has to improvise a little to help him remember anything he's found out about her killer, something which you can imagine puts him at a bit of a disadvantage. This plot fits neatly with the aforementioned gimmick, because it puts the viewer in much the same position as Lenny. We have no more idea of what has happened before than he does, and this is surprisingly effective in giving us a feel for Leonard's plight.

There are a few tests, though, that I think should be applied to any of these types of movies. Does the gimmick add to the movie? Is it worth the effort? And, probably most importatnly, would the movie stand on its own without it? It's easy to make a movie which leaves you amazed at the end, but on re-watching (or even just thinking about it), you realise that the movie wasn't actually any good, it was just different.

Personally, I think Memento passes all the tests with ease. The backward narrative does add to the movie: as I say, it totally changes your pespective on Leonard for a start, and the whole focus of movie-watching is turned on its head: we suddenly start worrying about cause rather than effect, which fits in very neatly with the story. Is it worth the effort? Sure. The backwards storytelling is the sort of trick that could easily be very annoying: fortunately, the movie is so well made that it only takes about two ‘jumps’ before you've got the idea sussed, and your brain starts processing it OK. Not that it doesn't leave you clamouring for more information in parts, but that's what a good thriller should do anyway.

Most importantly, would the movie stand on its own? Well, yes, I think it would. If Memento was re-spliced in chronological order, I think you'd still have a very fine thriller indeed. Sure, the ‘dramatic arc’ would have to be tweaked somewhat, but the fact is, Memento isn't all gimmick: take away the backwards plot, and you're still left with a story that's tight, largely well-acted (well, thanks to Pearce and Joe Pantoliano: Carrie-Anne Moss is actually fairly painful to watch), well-written, and generally engrossing. The innovative storytelling method is just the icing on the cake.

Can't ask for much more than that!

mino gives this movie 9 out of 10.
Review created on Thu 11 Mar 2004

"One to remember" - a review by andy-j

During the rape and murder of his wife, Leonard Shelby suffers a blow to the head that knocks him out. When he wakes up, he finds himself unable to form any new memories - he forgets everything that happens to him subsequent to his wife's murder after only a few minutes. Leonard Shelby is out for revenge. He wants to kill the person who killed his wife, but at the same time, his condition means that he is easily manipulated by those around him. Just who is out to help him, and who is out to use him for their own ends?

This movies starts at the end and works its way backwards a few minutes at a time. So at the end of the movie, you find out what happened at the start. I initially found this extremely annoying and it made the movie very hard to watch and enjoy. However, I soon adjusted this unusual style, and, upon reflection, came to find it very effective. Watching a film structured this way gives you the sense that you really are in the dark as to what is going on, and you really start to understand what Leonard goes through. It is also an excellent way to slowly clue the audience in on the bigger picture, and a very satisfying and refreshing way to watch a movie - instead of asking myself "what is going to happen next?" I was asking "why did this happen in the first place?"

One of the most memorable aspects of this film is the character of Leonard, a man who, despite being effectively retarded, will not give up. He's a quite an extraordinary person - innocent, yet tough. Ironically, his disability grant him more resolve, more fearlessness, than the average person. Guy Pearce does a great job here, his protrayal evokes sympathy, yet it also evokes a great deal of respect for his character.

This is definitely a movie that you'll need to watch more than once in order to get the most out of it. But I'll happily see it again and again because it strikes me as the sort of film that I won't tire of easily.

andy-j gives this movie 9 out of 10.
Review created on Tue 9 Jul 2002

Movie review statistics

Ratings given without reviews:

Number of reviews: 2
Number of ratings: 3
Average rating: 9.33
Lowest rating: 9 (by mino, andy-j)
Highest rating: 10 (by em_fiction)
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