18 March 2006

Film Review: Memento (2000)


This was a confusing film. I started watching it with the knowledge that it was the number one film of the 2000's according to a message board I frequent. I expected it to be great.

And it was, to begin with. From the start I could see that it was based around a messed up narrative syntax. I should mention that I avoided any and all spoilers, even to the extent of not reading the back of the DVD case, nor looking at the snapshots inside the case.

It got confusing, though, especially irking when I thought I had a handle on it early on. The narrative was going backwards. So he killed his man, and it went back from there. Except, when it got to the end, it turned out that was what we saw at the start. Or was it? So it was working backwards after we saw that bit?

I initially thought it was very good but not great, on account of it’s narrative-driven, and a lot of the narrative was driven through the tool of Leonard talking the story through. It all seemed a bit expositional to me.

But then that didn’t seem to be so much of a criticism. The phone calls, through which we learned a lot about him and his boy Sammy, weren’t just some tacky on the nose device, but a method within the storyline for him to get caught out. I think.

See, the thing about this film is that it confuses me to The Usual Suspects levels. I really don’t know what to make of it; perhaps a re-watch will sort me out. Perhaps I can glean some info somewhere on the two discs of extras. Perhaps, like that other film, my mind will never let me know the answer in the end.


What I do know is that this was a very intelligently written film. I love when people mess with the linearity of traditional narrative anyway, and this overcame initial fears that the backwards thing was just a gimmick ripped off from a Seinfeld episode. The dialogue was great – I especially loved Leonard’s line to Natalie (man, this conditioning works – I normally have to look character names up) about how the world doesn’t stop existing when you close your eyes. That’s the kind of ostensibly throwaway metaphysical line that gets me thinking far too much.

Funnily enough, it turned out to be rather an important line after all, seeing as it was something of an epiphany for our man Leonard. But that’s the rub, I guess. I’m not sure whether giving our protagonist such a massive disability was a masterstroke in playing with our perception[1], or whether it was just a cheap tool to distract us.

Hey, I’m just a very suspicious film-watcher. This was a really good film though, like I thought. Just not too great. Still, the fact that this was based on a short story by Jonathan Nolan bodes well for the next Batman film, which he is apparently writing. Could be interesting.

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[1]Such as the ‘don’t trust your imagination as fact’ deal in Almodovar’s La Mala Educación, where what we trusted as our characters in the film were just characters in a film within the film, and the real characters were different.

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