BluRay/DVD Reviews

MEMENTO

By • Sep 4th, 2001 •

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Christopher Nolan’s MEMENTO dazzled me. It was ambitious and thought provoking. When asked last year, and I’m asked all the time, I recommended people go see MEMENTO and SEXY BEAST.

Now, after the one disc MEMENTO was issued, a Limited Edition, two disc MEMENTO became available from Columbia TriStar ($28). It’s filled with infuriatingly clever, extra material. Writer/Director Nolan has put a lot of thought and creativity into designing one of the best DVD packages in years. Before taking a look at the extras, let’s briefly review the film, which has now become, along with RUN LOLA RUN, screenwriting models of the Three Act Structure that use an unusual format to tell a story.

MEMENTO opens with the deconstructing of a Polaroid that fades instead of develops. This is the template for what follows, as memories and events keep fading from insurance claims investigator Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce). What I find so fascinating about MEMENTO is how it captures what we all have done: Take an emotional experience and talk and obsess about it until we twist it into another form. We look for subtleties and nuances that will support our perception of the facts. (And, as we all know, facts change.)

Events in Leonard’s story keep being reworked, each time gathering further dimension and clarity. Every time the episode is replayed, and they are played over and over again, the director adds another small piece of the puzzle for us. But Leonard keeps forgetting.

Leonard’s wife has been murdered and, in the attack, he suffered a brain injury that left his short-term memory damaged. He is intent on finding and killing the man who raped and murdered his wife. When we meet Leonard he is in the throes of hunting down John G. Two strangers, Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) and Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss), appear to help him. Who are Teddy and Natalie? We don’t know and neither does Leonard. He has tattooed “facts” on his body and takes Polaroids of everything that is essential to his daily life. He’s adjusted to his condition and has found a novel way to handle his disability. But he’s unsettling, disoriented, and angry. Everyone in this movie is angry.

Leonard presses forward unaware of the treacherous deceptions of Teddy and Natalie. Everyone who becomes involved with Leonard over time realizes he will forget them and they treat him accordingly. Forgetting someone is an insult. This presents an interesting sociological quagmire: If you knew you could get away unscathed with telling someone exactly what you thought of them, would you? Nolan thinks you would.

What’s the truth is not clear and the time backward device keeps the spectator involved. Will the story get sloppy? Will something conveniently happen to resolve the complex scenario Nolan has painted? To resolve this point to my satisfaction, I watched the MEMENTO DVD several times. It is an intelligent, clever film driven by an imaginative, highly individualistic approach. Writer/Director Nolan has garnered much praise for MEMENTO and it’s well deserved. He creates a definitive point of view that is the mark of an artist – and a strong director. And he resolves the murder mystery in a challenging and interesting way, but leaves Leonard precariously trapped in his time-crunched reality.

The DVD package is designed to resemble a case file – Leonard Shelby’s. Like the original single DVD MEMENTO, there’s Nolan’s commentary and the short story on which the film was based. The new Limited Edition DVD has Nolan’s script for the film that scrolls along as you watch the film. For screenwriters, this is an important feature since it allows you to see how the written scene translates visually.

Nolan’s commentary is one of the best and really enhances the viewing experience. He knows precisely what needs to be explained and how to engage you in the filmmaking process. Passively sitting back and watching MEMENTO is not Nolan’s plan for the viewer.

To access the DVD special features, you have to pass a series of psychological evaluation tests. There are also a series of multiple-choice and word memory games, and other challenges, designed by Nolan (to drive you crazy). There’s the “Easter Egg” feature that, once you conquer the puzzle, re-sequences MEMENTO so it plays in chronological order. But it’s not easy.

WARNING! CLUES AHEAD!

I’m going to help you cheat by giving you two small clues to get you through the re-sequencing hurdle. Put in Disc Two, select the clock and answer “C” five times. Then agonize further and intently pay attention to the woman fixing her tire. Remember, things go in reverse order.

While Leonard Shelby’s case file is not as creepy as the ones presented on the “Mind of a Killer” (with video confessions, interviews, and psychological profiles of famous serial killers) CD-ROM, it is an interesting construct of a Möbius loop-like case file cleverly built by Christopher Nolan.

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