Memento (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Memento 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. 


Guy Pearce's butt was seen briefly
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.

This anecdote is obviously bullshit. Only two people were present when that happened - Sammy and his wife. Obviously, Sammy could not have recollected the story because the story proves he was not faking his condition. The wife could not have recollected the story because she was dead. The police may have been able to reconstruct some of the details, but not with the specificity demonstrated in the anecdote. 

Furthermore, the laws of probability are really strained here. Are we to believe that our hero has a medical condition so rare that none of us ever heard of it, and he actually knew another guy with a genuine case of the same condition? Do we also have to believe OJ was innocent?

Therefore, as a viewer, you can only reach certain conclusions. The incident could not have happened to Sammy and his wife. The incident is some kind of fabricated or altered memory. Maybe Sammy doesn't even exist. If he does exist, the laws of probability indicate that he was faking. Even if he did exist and wasn't faking, the dead wife story never happened.  Since our protagonist is supposed to have the same medical condition as Sammy, it is likely that he uses the fictional or semi-fictional Sammy as a surrogate for himself, to take his own place in subconscious memories he can't accept. 

I'm not sure, but I don't think the author meant to give away that much that soon. After all, what could be so bad that he couldn't accept it?

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?

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1

  • interview with the director

 The key elements of a thriller are 

(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.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three and a half stars. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 4/4, Apollo 91/100

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 8.9, currently number #11 of all time. 
  • With their dollars ... it was a solid profit maker. Although the domestic gross was far short of blockbuster status at $24 million, the budget was only five million - less than "Faust: Love of the Damned!" It has proven to be a very solid winner in home video rentals and sales.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B. Maybe better, but a B for sure.

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