Reccos: Memento

This was written by me in May 2009.

Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano

Memento is a psychological thriller that has Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), a former insurance fraud investigator searching for a man who he believes raped and killed his wife during a burglary attack. He gets hit on the head during the attack and as a result suffers from anterograde amnesia and cannot remember anything for more than 15-20 minutes. He takes polaroid pictures and writes down notes and tattoos important facts. He is aided in his investigation by Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) and Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss). The movie is based on a short story written by Christopher Nolan’s brother Jonathan Nolan.

The movie has alternate black & white scenes which move forward and alternate color scenes which run in reverse chronological order. As each scene begins, Leonard has just lost his recent memories, leaving him unaware of where he is or what he was doing. The scene ends just after its events fade from his memory. By reversing the order, the viewer is unaware of the preceding events, just like Leonard. The final black & white scene turns into color halfway through the scene. It’s like converging from the front and back to the same point. The climax is just genius and you have to listen to the dialogues very attentively as therein lies the whole turning point of the movie. It’s when you see this you realize why the movie needed those scenes to be in reverse order. Watching Memento is like watching a puzzle unravel. Yes, it takes some cinematic liberties and leaves some things unanswered, yet it’s a cinematic masterpiece recommended for every one.

Some scenes are brilliant like the one where we find out that the motel manager is renting two rooms to Leonard, the scene where Natalie manipulates Leonard by hiding all the pens, the scene where Leonard is in the middle of a chase and assumes that he’s chasing the other guy until he is shot at, the scene where Leonard after beating Dodd asks “Who did this to you?”, all scenes involving Sammy and the final scene

Guy Pearce is brilliant as Leonard Shelby. He conveys the confusion, despair, anger and sadness of a memory loss patient seeking vengeance excellently. Its a shame that he was not even nominated for an Oscar for such a brilliant performance. Joe Pantoliano and Carrie-Anne Moss are excellent too. The screenplay by Christopher Nolan is excellent and the editing is brilliant. The movie was nominated for Oscars for Best Original Screenplay and Best Editing.

It has marvelous dialogues like “How am I supposed to heal if I can’t feel time?”, “My wife deserves vengeance whether I remember it or not.”, “Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They’re just an interpretation, they’re not a record, and they’re irrelevant if you have the facts.” and “I have to believe in a world outside my own mind. I have to believe that my actions still have meaning, even if I can’t remember them. I have to believe that when my eyes are closed, the world’s still there. Do I believe the world’s still there? Is it still out there?… Yeah. We all need mirrors to remind ourselves who we are. I’m no different.”

The background music and the editing is excellent. Christopher Nolan’s direction is excellent and it is shameful that the Academy decided to ignore him and the movie in favor of some very undeserving movies like Moulin Rouge, In the Bedroom and Lord of the Rings II. Reverse chronological order has been used in movies and even in an episode of Seinfeld before but this is the best use of it as it puts the viewer in the same state of confusion as the protagonist. The director deliberately leaves some things unanswered which may leave some viewers confused.

Memento is definitely one of the best movies of all time and is arguably the best psychological thriller of all time and one of the best movies in the genre of film noir. Its a must see movie.

Rating: 4.5 / 5 (Brilliant)

  1. aryan 10 years ago

    I think Aamir Khan’s Ghajini Copied from this movie unofficially?

  2. hithere 10 years ago

    Intelligent movie..You are so engrossed with Screenplay that ending comes as shock..

  3. narad_muni 10 years ago

    I was quite late to catch this movie.
    Frankly, it is Christopher Nolan;s best work till date …even better than Inception and Dark Knight. I am yet to see Following.

    The screenplay is a lesson in film making.
    Till date, there are several unanswered questions about the movie and Nolan has refused to reveal the answers.

    Truly exceptional, brilliant, fanstastic. It is a sin for a movie lover not to see this movie.
    Rating – 10/10

    • Author
      sputnik 10 years ago

      Yeah I think this is Nolan’s best too.

      I did not like Following much – Its more like art house movie.

  4. Baba Ji 9 years ago

    great review sputnik.I think you have written everything here that i wanted to say.

    “The final black & white scene turns into color halfway through the scene. It’s like converging from the front and back to the same point.”

    brilliantly said.

  5. Baba Ji 9 years ago

    memento is without doubt among my all-time fav films.

  6. Serenzy 9 years ago

    More den Oldboy?

    Please Abuse me for calling this Nolan’s WEAKEST till date before.
    I understood it’s Brilliance in Rewatch.

    • fearlesssoul 9 years ago

      i need to watch it again after reading this review i guess 😛

    • Baba Ji 9 years ago

      Oldboy is better than memento.but memento is all-time fav too.

  7. Serenzy 9 years ago

    “He conveys the confusion, despair, anger and sadness of a memory loss patient seeking vengeance excellently.
    Its a shame that he was not even nominated for an Oscar for such a brilliant

    ““The final black & white scene turns into color halfway through the scene. It’s like converging from the front and back to the same point.”

    Well Said Sputnik…Good Review.

    I dont know abt TDKR but Nolan deserves the Best Director OSCAR this year just on the basis of his Previous Brilliant Outings.

    • Author
      sputnik 9 years ago

      Thanks Serenzy.

      I recommended the movie to a couple of friends and they did not get the movie in the first watch either. They totally missed the final scene and the importance of those dialogues.

      I don’t know if you or Baba caught the scene where Sammy Jenkis is in the hospital and suddenly for a split second Lenny is in that chair instead of Sammy Jenkis.

  8. Serenzy 9 years ago

    “The screenplay is a lesson in film making.”

    Good Point Shilu.

    For me the Ranking as of now wud be,

    3.The Dark Knight
    4.The Dark Knight Rises
    5.Batman Begins

    Haven’t watched ‘Following’ as of yet.

    So, BB by default becomes Nolan’s Weakest but Not actually Poor Product!

    • Baba Ji 9 years ago

      i have seen nolans memento ,tdk (in bits ) and tdkr. tdkr doesnt stand anywhere near memento.i tried watching inception but got bored,but I am told the first 20-30 mins are slow but after that the movie picks up.will check that later.

  9. Serenzy 9 years ago

    I forgot to Rank Insomnia… Chris Nolan is Truly a Wonderful Talent!

    FS Bhai,

    Your views on Inglorius Basterds & Schindler’s List.

    Cud u please provide me the Link of ur ‘Judgement At Nuremberg’ Post on NG.

    • Milind 9 years ago

      Serenzy Bro,

      Type Milind+Naachgaana+Judgement at Nureberg on google,I will be there.

      At TQ we practice a policy of not posting any links of an inferior site..they might get advertised.

      • Author
        sputnik 9 years ago

        I saw that they deleted the Aamir scans that Fasel had posted on NG and some comments on that post as well as the on the one yakuza posted on NG. I don’t think we need to do the same.

        You still have NG in your picture. So you are advertising it 😉

        • milind 9 years ago

          Ha ha..arey bhai…m lazy to log in gravataar…one fine day I will… 😀

  10. milind 9 years ago

    Memento fades in front of FOLLOWING.Nolan’s unsung gem.

  11. I.One 9 years ago

    Question for all.

    Is Nolan’s Momento in English or French?

    • Author
      sputnik 9 years ago

      It is in English.

      • I.One 9 years ago

        Thanks Sputnik.

        Because I was wondering over few articles on internet about the movie Momento being in French, so was not sure as I have no idea about Momento. Wanted to see it since a long time but time is not permitting. This review further adds to curiosity. Hopefully will watch it soon, as its a Nolan movie.

  12. Serenzy 9 years ago

    Sputnik,Milind, Anyone…

    Views on Schindler’s List OR Inglorius Basterds.

    • Author
      sputnik 9 years ago

      I have not seen Schindler’s List again since I first saw when it released. I liked it back then but don’t remember much.

      I have not seen Inglorius Basterds in full but liked the “rat” scene a lot. Christoph Waltz was brilliant in that scene.

      • hithere 9 years ago

        Schindler’s List – is good but predictable.
        Inglorius Basterds – Is well made.

  13. fearlesssoul 9 years ago

    Schindler’s List is the best film I have ever seen. For me it is on par or better than Shawshank redemption. If it was fictional i might have not liked it so much but when it is based on Real Character then it makes you think how he must have risked his life for the life of so many as his decision were so wise so was he.

    • Author
      sputnik 9 years ago

      Thanks for the link. I had read that before and I looked for it earlier today. I had it in my email but the link had an and it was not working anymore.

    • Bored 9 years ago

      This write-up is one of the better ones but this guy didnt get it completely though.
      If one chose to look beyond the structural complicacy, the story is not much of a noir thriller but a psychological case study.

      A couple of thugs rape Leo’s wife, he kills one but the other hits him on the head and his brain is screwed for good – retrograde amnesia where he cant remember anything beyond 15-20 mins. EXCEPT the two main events of his life, which had affected his psyche – (1) the rape incident and (2) his wife’s death in this own hands.

      Since his wife fooled him into killing her due to her own suspicions of his condition – Leonard is not able to accept it – and his own guilt forces his subconscious to ‘distort’ his long term memories to – (1) his wife was killed during the rape, and (2) It was his inmate Sammy in the asylum (from where he escaped before the events in the film) who was suffering from retrograde amnesia and killed his wife with insulin overdose.

      With his conscience now clear, he lives his life with a self-imposed vendetta to avenge his wife by killing the fictitious intruder called “John G”. He leads himself and allows others to make him believe someone is John G, then hunts and kills him and again initiates the cycle before he forgets his recent ‘kill’.

      Teddy is the corrupt police officer who investigated his case, and has tracked him down after he escaped. Teddy now uses Leo’s ‘condition’ to kill criminals for his own convenience. Even Natalie tries to avenge her criminal boyfriend Jimmy’s death by incriminating Teddy as the ‘John G’ that Leo is looking for.

      But the irony is Teddy/Natalie takes advantage of Leo only because Leo wants them to.

      Baba – now I have done what you wanted, at the cost of lot of pending work!

      • Baba Ji 9 years ago

        thanks for writing bored.

        Ideally with his condition,he should not be remembering whatever happened after the accident but Nolan wants us to assume a selective-amnesia here ( by giving the conditioning memory argument as sputnik said).This is the part that will confuse any viewer in the first watch (unless one has done a bit of google search 😉 ) bcos the audience sees it with a straight logic.

        • Bored 9 years ago

          What you now need is to understand and dig up case studies of retrograde amnesia (here its more compounded because of his other brain disease of disillusioning of his own memories and life due to guilt) – but dont ask me to illuminate you on this, do the research if you have time and interest.

          And I have said before, Nolan excepts intelligent audience in all his work. Memento is perhaps the most difficult one he churned out. The reason why Nolan has got cult following over the years is because audience has increasingly responded to his call for ‘intelligent viewing’ (even though he has dumbed it down for his big budget commercial ones, but even his most straightforward wok is much more compelling and quite a few notches above anything Hollywood turns out).

          • Baba Ji 9 years ago

            no…will probably move on to ett now 😀 ….i think 25-30 cr is on the cards for day 1.monday will be above 20 cr.

        • Author
          sputnik 9 years ago

          It is Anterograde amnesia.

          “Anterograde amnesia is a loss of the ability to create new memories after the event that caused the amnesia, leading to a partial or complete inability to recall the recent past, while long-term memories from before the event remain intact.”

          You are taking Lenny’s initial dialogues about not remembering anything after the accident to be 100% correct while you ignored all the dialogues in the end.

          The FAQs that I gave you already explained that. Here it is again. Read it in full.

          “Leonard makes a statement in the film that he can not create new memories. Some take this as literal truth of something we must believe and others have claimed it is a flaw on Nolan’s part of the reality of this condition. The simplest explanation is that it is a “simplification” and an imprecision in what Leonard states. Most people do not nit-pick everything they say. [This is akin to Leonard saying he does not have “amnesia”. He is simplifying for Burt: he means that he does not have “retrograde amnesia”, which is what most people think of when they hear the term “amnesia”. In reality, Leonard does have amnesia. Leonard has anterograde amnesia]. The movie clearly indicates that Leonard can create new procedural memories via habit and routine. In fact with this condition, implicit memory creation (procedural memories are only one type of implicit memory) is not affected at all, since it occurs through other parts of the brain. Therefore people with this condition are able to create new memories: implicit memory creation is completely unaffected.

          The implication about this statement is not so much about the implicit memory creation that the movie discusses, but about the explicit memory creation. This condition causes an impairment in the ability of someone to create new explicit memories. But even this impairment is not absolute. Even some new explicit memories may be created: “Amnesia is not an all-or-nothing condition, and even H.M., from time to time, has meagre conscious recollections of information encountered postoperatively”. HM’s was a “pure case” caused by surgery and not an accident. He had epileptic seizures and the doctors believed that if they removed some of his temporal lobe (including the hippocampus), then he would no longer get them. The doctors were correct: they cured him of his seizures! He also got this condition since (it was later discovered) that the hippocampus (more generally the MTL: media temporal lobe) is important to the “consolidation” of memory (converting the short-term to long-term memory).]

          Nolan also suggests (provides us a clue to) this fact when he shows us a shot which may be interpreted of a memory of Leonard in a mental institute: a memory he could not have if the condition were absolute. It appears that Nolan does suggest how it is possible and why this type of memory is retained. The flash of Sammy turning into Leonard in the mental institute suggests to many a “projection” of Leonard recollections onto Sammy memories. The anchor of the recollection is the Sammy memory. It is important to realize, that this condition does not force Leonard to start with a “clean state”. His memories are not “erased”. The short term memories are just typically not consolidated into long-term memories. But, Leonard does have experiences after the attack and “on some level” bits are recalled: though maybe only subconsciously, and some relegated to show up only as “conditioning” (some probably to his surprise – when did I learn to do that?) other things only “recalled” as only distant memories. These are the implicit, non-declarative memories.

          For example, in Oliver Sacks’ book: The Man who Mistook his wife for a Hat, he has an entire chapter on a man named “Jimmy G.” who got this condition (anterograde memory dysfunction) from chronic alcoholism (this is termed “Korsakoff’s syndrome”). Sacks states: “He [Jimmie] sometimes retained faint memories, some dim echo or sense of familiarity. Thus five minutes after I had played tic-tac-toc [sic] with him, he recollected that “some doctor” had played this with him ‘a while back’ – whether the ‘while back’ was minutes or months ago he had no idea.”

          Also, this condition does allow you to learn thru conditioning (as mentioned many times in the movie), but some things may “break thru” that “typically won’t”. “Jimmy G” is also discussed online: “Jimmy was stuck in the year 1945, it turned out. He only remembered one or two events since that year. (One was the death of his brother, which says something about the relationship of emotions and encoding.)”

          Studies on people with this condition have concluded: “factual information, which is ordinarily learned as declarative (conscious) knowledge and with the participation of the medial temporal lobe, can be acquired as nondeclarative memory” which is a means of saying that explicit memories can be learned from implicit memories as has been hypothesized as a mechanism for what Nolan appears to have suggested. As stated this is enhanced by Leonard’s knowledge of Sammy and his explicit memories of Sammy. It has been pointed out in the classic AMD case of H.M. that “experiments demonstrate that H.M. is capable of learning some new factual information when it can be fixed to already acquired knowledge.” This paper even the suggests that this can lead to false memories due to incorrect anchoring. H.M. seems to have anchored some of the Challenger explosion (which happened after his AMD) with his memories of the Titanic disaster. This type of misrembering seems to also be suggested in the film especially in the sequence of Sammy in a mental institute that turns into Leonard as someone nurse walks by. “

          • Baba Ji 9 years ago

            I am not convinced by this.This is a theoretical defense for the film but it might have practical reality who knows.I am no expert on this.

          • Bored 9 years ago

            Thanks , I meant anterograde amnesia and not retrograde in my above comments.

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