Memento (2001)

MEMENTO, one of the year's first critical darlings-- that is, criti-
cal *art-house* darlings, the ban on *mainstream* quality still be-
ing in effect, is a puzzling, interest-piquing, and, alas, ultimate-
ly hollow neo-noir murder-mystery about a former insurance investi-
gator (Guy Pearce) with a most peculiar problem:  he can't form new 
memories.  When wakes in the morning, he can't remember yesterday.  
Or the day before.  Or the day before that.  All the way back to the 
"accident," that Pearce's once-happily-married character speaks of 
and which presumably relates to whatever (or, as we learn, *whoev-
er*) he's looking for.  Hell, he can't even remember how long con-
versations originally started!  (Or, in one inspired moment, that 
the reason he's running down the street is... because he's chasing 
someone.  Until he's shot at, then realizes they're chasing *him*.)  
Our hero has adapted, though, through the use of handwritten notes, 
annotated Polaroids [joke: what do Eskimos get from sitting on ig-
loos?], and, most unconventionally, tattooed factoids all about his 
body.  (Some written in reverse, of course, so he can read them in a 

Neat gimmick, to be sure, but so is the *movie*.  What makes MEMENTO 
even *more* unique is that the story is told in *reverse*.  Meaning, 
the last chronologically occurring scene is shown first, the second-
to-last scene is shown next, and so on and so forth.  And with each 
three to five-minute interval broken by black-and-white (forward- 
moving footage of our guy in a hotel room, his voiced-over thoughts 
and phone conversations framing the story with details of his condi-
tion, his past life, and, eventually, whatever "it" is that's al-
ready occurred but hasn't been shown on screen.  Thus, the suspense 
in this one is *less* the result of screw-turning momentum than puz-
zle-solving curiosity.  Will we figure out the beginning before the 
revealing end?  Or will the proverbial man behind the curtain be a 
total surprise??  There's also a running joke, of sorts, the forget-
ful character explaining his condition over and over again, result-
ing an amusing variety of other-character reactions.  Some act an-
noyed, others play jokes, and one opportunistic clerk rents *two* 
hotel rooms to the unsuspecting Joe.   

Pearce plays the part with believable confusion and a methodical 
helplessness.  In a neat sort of "reverse characterization," his 
character gets *tougher* as the story goes-- er, un-goes-- the trau-
matic memories of What Happened(tm) becoming fresher; his reactions 
to situations becoming more raw.  Other players among the relatively 
small-sized cast include Carrie-Anne Moss as a bruised bartender who 
helps him and colorful character actor Joe Pantoliano as "Teddy," a 
seedy, squealy-voiced, apparent friend to the main character with 
one wicked-looking, Jack Nicholson-style moustache.  (The latter al-
so cracked on in the script!)  Overall, consider it a fascinating, 
fast-enough moving, and, at times, funny film that, alas, is one 
hundred-percent hollow at its core.  The big deal is *no* deal, we 
learn at the very end/beginning; the nail that the kingdom is lost 
for want of delivers absolutely *no* gut-punching, perfect sense-
making, "ah ha!" resulting realization.  In fact, it's an *opposite* 
reaction that you'll likely leave with:  "that's the best 'trigger' 
they could come up with?"  Oh well...  With Stephen Tobolowsky, Har-
riet Sansom Harris, Callum Keith Rennie, and Jorja Fox.  Written and 
directed by Christopher Nolan, from a story by Jonathan Nolan.  
(Rated "R"/113 min.)

Grade: B-

Copyright 2001 by Michael J. Legeros
Movie Hell is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros

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Copyright 2001 by Michael J. Legeros -Movie Hell™ is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros