We all have those days when we forget things. But for Lenny Shelby, it's different. He can't form new memories at all. And how do you know who you are when you can't remember?
Memento is one of the most thought-provoking and thrillingly intelligent films to be released last year. The follow-up to his low-budget debut Following (1999), Memento is a technical and imaginative tour-de-force that wrenches you from your normal popcorn slouch and demands attention; this is a film that makes you work and makes you think, and one which, unlike Lenny, you won't forget in a hurry.
The opening image - a Polaroid developing in reverse, the image slowly fading into obscurity - is a perfect metaphor for a film which thrives on the development and unravelling of narrative clues, in which the story is slowly pieced together scene by scene only to unwind with each new revelation. We learn that Lenny (Guy Pearce) is chasing the killer of his wife, the incident in which Lenny also sustained the head injuries which caused his "condition". A cop, Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) and a waitress, Natalie (Carrie Anne Moss) are helping him. And somehow, Lenny is mixed up in a murder. Essentially running backwards, the film's end at the beginning only makes sense once the whole story has unfolded; each scene plays out with Lenny reconstructing the development of events for himself from scribbled notes, photos, maps and clues, only for the next scene to jump back and relate the events which led up to it.
This framework of constant revisitation, revision and reconstruction implicates the viewer in Lenny's point of view: as he pieces events together so, gradually, do we, never fully knowing the full story, and more importantly, never completely knowing what Lenny has done and who he can trust. The film is a kind of narrative test of alertness; visual clues - the scratches on Lenny's cheek, the smashed window of his car, the comments on his Polaroid pictures, his "memento" tattoos, the...
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