|Memento, Directed and Written by Christopher
Nolan - Review by Cathy Soussloff
breaks into a dazzling speeded up frenzy of Polaroid and cinematic shots
from the first scene and just gets faster and better as it goes.
Premise is: the speed of the sequences is taking you back in time instead
of getting you to the end of the story. Christopher Nolan writes
and directs with a sharp precision not possible in the ungainly Hollywood
narratives of the 1980’s and 90’s. He casts edgy actors—Guy Pearce,
as in LA Confidential, Carrie-Anne Moss, as in The Matrix, and Joe Pantoliano,
as in Memento—for edgy roles in which they excel at the dark repartee and
staccato movements required by their characters. But the allure of
the film resides in the suspense of telling a who-dun-it noir backwards
in the medium of film.
than you might think possible, Memento relies not so much on the concept
of our faulty and suggestible memories, but rather on the marriage of text
with the moving image. Leonard Shelby, the short term memory loss
guy and the film’s main character, writes obsessively to himself:
little notes on scraps of paper and beer mats; captions at the bottom of
Polaroid snaps; and tattoos etched in mirror writing on his body.
These clues or mnemonics serve his handicap of short term memory loss,
but more than that they help us the viewers READ the story that moves backwards
instead of towards the inevitable progression of time we expect from narrative
art. The major key to understanding the plot lies in the scene in which
we find Leonard in a Tattoo Parlor, having the final clue etched into his
body. As we read the clue, the images on the screen suddenly add
up to the solution to the puzzle of Leonard’s life and wife.
Leonard asks innumerable times, is life without memory? Who are you,
his co-conspirators Natalie and Teddy taunt, without a memory? The
answer Memento gives is an obsessive compulsion to find something that
will always remain elusive, a self-knowledge that even time going backwards
cannot provide. Memento reminds us of the illusions upon which we
build our own life stories. As a warning about relying too much on
the power of memory, Memento the film functions as a memento mori, a kind
of image that reminds you of mortality, like the death’s head that the
character Leonard comes to embody. As a tour de force of movie-making
Memento remembers the artfulness of the time-image that is the cinema:
at once a form of representing our world, but also a way to think through
abstractions, such as time and movement, in order to know better what it
means to be human. Memento asks us to accept that death will be the
only outcome of a life without both long-term and short-term memory—of
a life without history.
For KUSP and the Film Gang this is Cathy
Soussloff, having fun at the movies.
Copyright Catherine M.Soussloff 2001