Christopher Nolan has made several movies that I enjoy, from The Dark Knight to The Prestige. Therefore, I had high hopes for his 2000 film, Memento.
As soon as the film began and I realized the picture was playing backwards, I kind of sighed. I realized it was going to be one of those movies. However, by the time the movie was over, I didn’t mind the non-linear structure, and I actually thought it worked very well. Since the character’s perspective of life was so limited, it made sense that the viewer just had glimpses of the story at a time. He could only remember short periods of life before it was forgotten, and it was interesting to follow him on his journey each time he forgot what was happening.
The premise of the film was certainly intriguing. While the short-term memory thing is kind of an overused cliché at this point (think 50 First Dates), back then I imagine it would have been quite refreshing. To begin with, the viewer is completely at a loss as to what is going on. If I hadn’t read the back of the Netflix DVD slip, I would have been surely confused. However, this approach again works well – the viewer is learning about everything just like Lenny does every fifteen minutes. Though we do not forget again throughout the course of the film as he does, it gives us the ability to imagine ourselves in his place.
As we learn more and more through the progressing dual-storyline, one traveling forward in time and the other backward, the suspense continues to build. The viewer is always aware that they are missing some vital piece of information, and every time Lenny’s stories backs up to the previous point in time, the viewer hopes they will learn more about what is going on. It’s almost a hard concept to grasp – that to truly discover what is happening, one must start at the beginning.
The big reveal at the end when Teddy confesses, however, seemed to take a long while to get to. By the time I finally figured out what was going on, I was a little annoyed. Of course, the suspense builds the entire movie, but the viewer is given so few details that it’s really hard to make any sort of guess what is really going on. This is what separates us from Lenny – he knows the story of his life, while the viewer doesn’t. As the viewer, we have to trust what he says, even if he is a brain-damaged and therefore unreliable character. When Teddy reveals that Lenny really killed his wife, it is hard to believe him – yet impossible not to, for otherwise the movie has no purpose because the viewer still doesn’t know what is going on.
Nolan is infamous for his twist endings, but I do wish this one would have had a little more preparation. Nolan dragged the viewer along for the entire movie without giving them much of an idea what was happening, and in this case, it was just too much. The bomb of an answer at the end was not a sating ending to the twisted plot. In addition, one has to wonder, if Lenny really did unintentionally kill his wife, why was he not put in a secure setting? He might not have to go to jail, but he shouldn’t be allowed to just wonder the streets. He should be in a mental ward for both the protection of himself and others. Imagine if he was driving and suddenly forgot where he was and ran a red light. It’s just not a safe situation, and I can’t imagine anyone allowing it.
Overall, I praise this film for its unique structure and daring timelines, but I do wish it had been slightly more coherently constructed. What are your thoughts? Disagree completely and think I’m an idiot? Rip me apart in the comments, I dare you.