Memento (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
is a movie that is unusual, one might say original, on two levels.
First, it is about a man who "can't make any new memories". He has a type of short-term memory loss caused by a blow to the head. He can remember everything normally up until the time of the accident, then nothing. It is like an extreme case of Alzheimer's. In this condition, he can remember facts for a few minutes, no longer. In order to live his life from day to day with some continuity, he has to make notes to himself : "don't trust this guy", with a picture attached. Since he can't always remember where he puts the notes, he tattoos important facts to his body.
Second, the story is told backwards. This is more than a gimmick. It is an absolutely integral device to place us in the character's POV. Every day when he wakes up, he has no idea what has transpired in his life since the accident. In essence, he doesn't know what has come before. If the story were told sequentially, we couldn't be in his POV, since we would know what happened to him yesterday, but he would not. By telling the story backwards, the author keeps us unaware of what happened to him in the past, just as he himself is. It is confusing, but absolutely essential to get the viewer into his POV.
|Of course, we do have the advantage of knowing his future. The movie begins with him murdering the guy that his notes and tattoos lead him to. He thinks that guy killed his wife. Our dramatic tension comes from determining why he thinks so, and whether he is right.||
|The film has some gigantic
logical flaws, and there is a spoiler here. This is a really good
movie, and the great pleasure is solving the main mystery along with
the protagonist. Perhaps you want to see the movie first, then read
this, although (in my estimation) I have stopped far short of
revealing any of the pleasurable surprises.
Flaw #1. The character can't remember anything that has happened since the accident. He was diagnosed with short-term memory loss after the accident. How does he know that he has short-term memory loss? How can he remember the doctor's explanation? Why would the doctor even bother telling him, knowing he would forget it 10 minutes later. It's like the old Rodney joke about Alzheimer's disease - "I can't remember whether I have that. I can't even remember what it is. What was the question?"
Flaw #2: In the middle of the movie, he recollects another guy with the same condition - he knew him before the accident. The guy's name was Sammy. Sammy's wife thought he was faking, so she had him administer her insulin several times. She knew he loved her and would not give a fatal dose if he was faking his condition. Unfortunately, he was not faking. The repeated shots killed her.
I don't think you need to think these things through so completely. The first flaw doesn't mean anything. It's just a contrivance that the film has to have. Accept the fact that he can't remember anything except that he can't remember anything. Take a deep breath and move on. The second flaw is a "so what?'. OK, maybe it was obvious that he really killed his own wife. Therefore, the guy he killed in the first scene didn't kill his wife. But knowing that doesn't spoil the film at all. It only changes the questions, and deepens your involvement in finding out why he killed that guy in the first scene.
There are many other secrets to learn. Although the alleged killer didn't actually kill anybody, he did rape the wife and cause the crazy memory condition in the husband. So is the man killed in the first scene the perpetrator of those non-fatal crimes? Why does the path lead to him? Is somebody pulling the memory guy's strings? If so, who?
| The key elements of a thriller
(1) atmosphere, which is appropriately murky and confusing here, and the protagonist's existential attitude at the end is perfect - it reminds me of the ending to Blade Runner, sort of a -"so how is this really any different from your life"?
(2) satisfying explanations, which all seem to make sense to me within the internal logic of the film. In some cases, the mysteries are still not fully explained, but that lack of absolute clarity makes it even more satisfying and mysterious. At least there is nothing impossible or illogical that I could see.
(3) pleasurable surprises, of which there are several "Oh, I get it!" moments scattered through the plot, including a big finale which is not spoiled here.
This film has it all. It is a puzzle that is fun to solve.
Like Blade Runner, it is absolutely a genre masterpiece, and maybe a little more. It is currently rated at IMDb as the 11th best movie of all time, although it was made with a relatively small budget. What they lacked in spit and polish and spectacle, they made up in intelligence and originality.
TRIVIA: Director Christopher Nolan adapted the screenplay from a story written by his brother.
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