The Prestige was practically a study of the relationship between the mundane and how it can be bent to the spectacular. And who can forget Inception, the mind-bending science fiction movie where eventually nothing was as it seems. Even Nolan’s first film, Following, broke the mold with a maddening mixture of its past, present and future, yet still with that energy and pop sensibility. Maybe I’m going about this all wrong. Maybe Nolan’s gift is taking the weird and making it obvious.
But even by such high standards, his sophomore film Memento has taken its own place in history. It tells the story of a man out to avenge the murder of his wife. But the movie does this backwards. It starts at the end and leapfrogs back to previous scenes, slowly building the picture, while black and white scenes are in-between, running in normal order. Guy Pearce is Leonard, the avenging widower with a small problem: an accident has left him unable to create short-term memories. He cannot remember what he did a few minutes earlier – a handicap if you are trying to solve a murder. So Leonard relies on a creative note keeping system to keep him on the right track.
Meanwhile he has a strange ally in Joe Pantoliano’s Teddy, despite killing him at the end (start) of the film. Carrie-Anne Moss’ Natalie is another dark horse in a story that seems to give more questions than answers, then it all suddenly comes together as the forward and backward storylines merge.
Nothing is what it seems and the complete picture has settled in along the likes of The Usual Suspects in the brilliance of the twist. Amazingly it is actually a pretty straight-forward story and there are a few plot holes. For example, Leonard’s window to forget things tend to vary by a few minutes. But Nolan knows how to balance believability and pacing. The whole thing draws together so beautifully that even on re-watches Memento is mesmerizing.
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Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.
Last Updated: November 10, 2014