Memento (2000)


“We all need mirrors to remind ourselves who we really are”

The Scoop: 2000 R, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Joe Pantoliano

Tagline: Some memories are best forgotten

Summary Capsule: Man unravels a murder mystery in backwards time

DnaError’s rating: Linear storyline? We don’t need no stinkin’ linear storyline!

DnaError’s review: So in closing, Memento is one hell of a movie. The movie isn’t perfect, it can only really be watched once cause by the 2nd time you’ve (hopefully) figured everything out. It’s more like a puzzlebox, a rubix cube of a movie that once you’ve solved, can toss away. But that puzzle is engrossing, complex, with sorts of metaphysical questions while showing a masterwork of editing and plotting to keep the viewer always balanced between confusion and explanation.

But all of this storyline shifting and mindbending wouldn’t be anything if the movie didn’t have something more to it. Memento‘s core from it’s discussions of the nature of grief, memory, revenge. How can you grieve for someone you can’t remember to forget about? Just how reliable is memory? And is revenge worth it if you can’t remember it? As Leonard investigates a forgone conclusion, the movie’s central theme comes into bloom what’s more important, the journey or the goal?

Memento, much like that Seinfeld episode in India, is told backwards. For sheer novelty value the movie gets high marks, but it’s tight plotting and generous exploiting of the whole idea of backwards storytelling (check out just how Natalie got those scars) and Leonard’s own “condition” of short-term memory loss (Can’t remember if you’re chasing someone or being chased)? The performances are solid all around, Guy Preice nailing the noir-anti-hero Leonard on the head. Two Matrix-verterans, Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano appear on hand (but I’d pay $8 just to watch Carrie-Anne Moss read weather reports, so I can’t be objective) and Clare had better start a “You know that guy” for both Stephen Tobolowsky and Harriet Sansom Harris, two character actors everyone has seen around that give a pair of excellent performances as a tortured couple.

Starting out, it’s going to take a lot of effort not to spew reviewer praise all over this movie. I’m just going to set down some rules for anyone thinking of seeing it. They’re will be no bathroom breaks, no asking “what’s going on” during it, anyone who mentions Dana Carvy’s “Clean Slate” will be shot, and yes you will have to THINK. That being said, Memento, directed by Christopher Nolan, stands as one of the most original and interesting movies to come around in a long time.


Justin’s rating: Whoa nelly.

Justin’s review: There are a number of things you need to know before going in to see Memento. Your stomach is going to be twisted into knots. You’ll be completely disoriented. You’re going to be tricked out at least a few times. And you’ll leave the movie with way more questions than are answered. But maybe you don’t need to know all that after all. I’m just a guy with a license to review.

Memento is a film noir-ish trip through murder, mystery, betrayal and intrigue. But forget all that, that’s not important right now. Memento is a gimmick movie, which relies on its protagonist’s (Guy Pearce as Leonard) lack of short term memory, and is portrayed by playing the film in snippets beginning with the end, and ending with the beginning. But even forget that. It’s also a psychological nightmare of friends and enemies, trust and betrayal. It’s a mind-bender, a puzzle-piecer, a nail-biting cliffhanger serial. It will seriously mess with your mind.

I think we take for granted our God-like omnipresent viewpoint that we enjoy with most films. We typically get to see the good guy, the bad guy, and generally understand what’s going on onscreen, unless we happen to stumble into a viewing of Battlefield Earth. Yet here we step into the shoes of a mentally hurt and unstable individual. Since Leonard doesn’t have any short term memory, we are also deprived of backstory.

The mystery begins to unravel itself as we travel back in time, but man, did that just fill me with anxiety. It makes you start to watch everything, every detail, your mind trying to take what you’ve seen and piece it together in the proper sequential fashion. I must admit, I was pretty much overloaded by the time the film got close to it’s finish (beginning). And not only do you have to keep track of the daily events of Leonard, but you’re trying to figure out the mystery of his wife’s rape/murder by paying attention to his photos, documents and tattoos. On top of that, we have to make judgment calls on everyone we see – are they lying or manipulating Leonard/us? I felt rather paranoid after the film was over, and had to eat a soft pretzel with mustard to calm myself down.

Educational tidbits this film provided me: How to tattoo yourself with two pens, a needle and some scotch tape! How to attack someone on the other side of a door! Polaroid photos shouldn’t be torn up, they must be burned!

Memento leaves you with so much to think about, so many unanswered questions about even the simplest of things in Leonard’s life, that it can be as much of a frustrating experience as a richly rewarding one. Make no mistake (unless you forget about it), Memento is probably the most innovative and challenging film of 2001.

Also, please note that I could have really ticked you off by writing this entire review backwards like so: .ammom dedraeb eht si naMlooP

PoolMan’s rating: I think therefore I am… I think.

PoolMan’s review: You know, there’s just something to be said for movies that make you paranoid. I watched Memento for the first time the other day, I was immediately taken in by the notion that my memory isn’t what it used to be. Actually, that’s true, it isn’t (Canadian beer, and all). But more to the point, I just couldn’t shake the feeling the movie works so hard to establish that you just can’t trust anything. Take Leonard, paranoia’s poster boy.

Leonard and wife are attacked in their home. He’s given a blow to the head that wipes out his ability to create new memories, and the last thing he remembers is his wife dying in front of him. He hasn’t forgotten his life to that point, he just can’t remember anything since. Not for more than a couple of minutes, anyways. Have a conversation with him for too long, and he’ll ask who you are again. Not your name, who you *are*. To compensate, he keeps a Polaroid camera to take pictures and notes on things and people, and he covers his body with tattoos to remind him of his condition and his last remaining goal in life: to find his wife’s killer and kill him.

If you played the movie in chronological order (an option the DVD release allows), you’d have one helluva predictable movie. But the order in which the scenes are presented (last to first, with a contrasting flashback that runs first to last) serve to draw you into a fantastic murder mystery. Once you’ve seen all the way through to the beginning (this is confusing just writing about it!), you realize how Leonard has been manipulated by everyone he knows, including (and most importantly) himself. He tells himself the only lie that will end his suffering, even though he might not remember that his suffering’s done.

I have to say, this is a great movie. I loved the story, and I’m sorry that I’ll never have that “first viewing” again, because that’s the best way to see it. The characters are all beautifully played, and really make your head reel on who to trust. Despite the fact that Leonard’s main driving impulse is to commit murder, he comes off as a truly sympathetic character that you want to see succeed. Natalie alternates between sweet and mean, friend and betrayer that at first will shock you, and then will make lots more sense. Teddy will just make your skin crawl with distrust, but he’s much more than he seems to be. Meanwhile, nestled into all this dark distrust are a few moments of genuinely clever humour. Watching Leonard decide to chase the guy who was chasing him made me laugh out loud, big time. The “gimmick” of the movie is used to all kinds of ends, and makes for more than a one-trick pony.

In watching with friends, I heard a few complaints that the movie moves too slow… all three others I was with said so. However, I honestly thought that if it moved any faster you’d be in constant danger of losing the thread of the mystery. So be forewarned, the pacing’s not for the impatient. Also, while it may seem there are many unanswered questions, I think if you’re sharp you’ll have all the answers you’ll need. There are plot points that can be argued this way and that (my group started arguing over who was and wasn’t dead, for crying out loud), but perhaps, just like Leonard, you can treat your perception as fact. Whether it’s true or not isn’t the point, it’s just what you have to believe to make it make sense.

Still, I can’t remember the last mystery I’ve enjoyed more. I can’t remember many movies in general that I’ve enjoyed more. Memento comes highly recommended, don’t pass it up.

Rich’s rating: So… I killed a guy? Or did I? Now I’m confused…

Rich’s review: Viewers of The Real Cancun and other insipid Hollywood drivel starring Carrot Top or Adam Sandler, beware – Christopher Nolan is here to shake your numb frontal lobes till they come dribbling out of your ears and send you screaming back to the safety of American Idol, as Memento, like Shaq in an Oompa-Loompa convention, stands head, shoulders and torso above the mass of Hollywood films as a film that will make you think, and leaving you thinking long after the film has ended. Or began. Or whatever.

It’s hard to even skim the surface of the plot without giving away spoilers left and right, but here goes: Leonard Shelby’s (Guy Pearce) wife has been murdered, and Leonard attacked, leaving him with a unique problem – the inability to form new memories. Unable to remember how a conversation starts if it goes on too long, Leonard’s quest to find and punish the man who killed his wife and crippled him seems pointless; and yet through a system of carefully taken notes, clues, and tattoo’s, Leonard works to find his attacker.

From the above, you might well think it nothing more than a modern film-noir with an interesting premise – but no, no, no, Chucky, this is far from the truth. Two things make Memento stand out. It’s unique, back-to-front storytelling as a device to illustrate Leonard’s condition is inspired; like Leonard himself, we see only effect, and are left to speculate about the cause. Leonard does things which make no sense to us, or him, until we (as the audience) wind back through the memories Leonard has already lost. It’s a truly unique method of storytelling, one which helps you immediately empathize with the character whose condition we’d find difficult to understand. Apart from those of us who have seen Battlefield Earth, and subsequently find ourselves wondering how we got there…

The other outstanding feature is the cast of brilliantly shady characters Leonard finds himself surrounded by in the search for his assailant. With nothing more than a few notes on the back of a photograph, Leonard struggles to judge whether any of those people around him can be trusted. Is Leonard being manipulated? Is someone trying to get him to kill the wrong guy? Only we as the audience get to see the true extent of the motivations of those Leonard associates with. Imagine meeting everyone in your daily life as if it were for the first time…how long would it take for someone to manipulate you? Leonard’s need to rely on others for his information, coupled with his understandable apprehension about being exploited, make compelling watching.

This isn’t a film you want to watch with a bunch of rowdy drunk people, while doing homework, or while trying to decipher the Terrible Secret of Space™. In short, it requires total concentration. When my parents watched Memento, my Ma (who’s attention span sometimes leads me to believe she’s mankind’s first attempt at a Human/Goldfish hybrid) actually broke the rewind button on the VCR because she kept missing things (true story). Also, don’t expect this to zip along at breakneck pace – the story is a mystery, told backwards, with flash forward scenes, and it ends somewhere around the middle; there’s a lot to take in, and if the plot moved any faster, deep confusion and VCR button breakage would result. Kudos to Chris Nolan for taking into consideration VCR repair men around the world.

In short, don’t watch this if you want something to pass the time with a few friends. Watch this film if you want to sit down for a couple of hours, and match wits and concentration with one of the best cinematic stories of the last few years.

I’ve got a policy of only buying on DVD films which keep me talking about them for years. I’m happy to say Memento is one of them.

I can't remember why I posted this...
I can’t remember why I posted this…


  • Memento was shot in just 25 days.
  • The movie was filmed in Southern California, in and around the Sunland/Tujunga area. Other driving scenes were filmed in Burbank on Victory Blvd.
  • The tattoo parlor in the movie is named after Emma Thomas, one of the movie’s producers.
  • Plot holes: If Leonard couldn’t remember anything after the incident, he wouldn’t be able to remember that he has “a condition.” He also has no tattoo that reads “I have a short-term memory problem” that he would see every morning. (Reader Craig writes in: “I think “Remember Sammy Jenkins” is the tattoo you are looking for. It does say the same thing, in different words. And it is the only tattoo that is always in plain vision, on his hand facing his face.”)
  • Leonard keeps trying to wipe off the Sammy Jenkins tattoo every time he notices it.
  • Leonard makes a point of only believing his own handwriting. When Teddy convinces him to write something down on Natalie’s picture, he does so to satisfy Teddy, but in another handwriting in case he forgets to not believe it.
  • Teddy’s phone number, 555-0134, is the same as Marla Singer’s number in Fight Club.

Groovy Quotes

Teddy: Was he scared?
Leonard: Yeah, I think it was your sinister moustache.

Teddy: You’re not a killer. That’s why you’re so good at it.

Leonard: My wife deserves revenge, whether I know about it or not.

Natalie: What’s the last thing you do remember?
Leonard Shelby: My wife…
Natalie: That’s sweet.
Leonard Shelby: …dying.

[last line]
Leonard Shelby: Now… where was I?

Leonard Shelby: I always thought the joy of reading a book is not knowing what happens next.

Leonard Shelby: [thinking about his wife] How can I remember to forget you?

[Finding a beaten man in his closet.]
Leonard: Who did this to you?
Dodd: You did.

Leonard: The world doesn’t just disappear when you close your eyes, does it?

Teddy: It’s beer o’clock, and I’m buying.

[Discovering he’s holding a half-empty bottle of whiskey.]
Leonard Shelby: I don’t… feel drunk.

Leonard Shelby: We all need mirrors to remind ourselves who we really are.

Teddy: Ya know, I’ve had more rewarding relationships… but at least I can keep telling the same jokes.

Leonard: I’m sorry I don’t remember you. It’s nothing personal.

Natalie: Must be tough living your life according to a couple of scraps of paper. You mix your grocery list with your laundry list and you’ll be eating your underwear for breakfast. Guess that’s why you have those freaky tattoos.

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