TThe first time I came across Memento, at the 2000 Toronto Film Festival, he was one of those rare magnets that no one has on their schedule at the beginning of the festival, but they all rush to get in towards the end. Christopher Nolan was still a mystery, as he had only directed the little-seen DIY thriller that followed, and the film was being screened in Uptown, in one of the icy dungeons below the beautiful theater reserved for larger premieres and screenings of Midnight Madness.
This was long before Nolan was Hollywood’s dark Creator God, enhancing his mystique by retiring from the press and public appearances. When the screening ended, he stood in front of the audience like any other filmmaker, and it was one of the most remarkable public questions and answers I have ever witnessed. There were no grueling multi-part questions or embarrassing personal requests for advice Nolan might have for a young director. People just asked him, in great detail, to explain what the hell they had just seen. Nor was there a note of hostility in the questioning, as it could have been for a filmmaker who was not clear in his narration or who left some loose plot threads or red herrings. Nolan’s movie was a mile ahead of the audience, and they were eager to catch up.
In hindsight, the gang of festival goers hanging on his every word felt like the beginning of the Nolan cult, growing alongside his ambition to infuse the show with a deeper insight into the human mind and the turbulence within our lives. culture and within ourselves. It was also, of course, an appropriate exercise in how we create narratives from a mosaic of memories that are not always easily accessed or ordered or even as reliable. In fact, my memory of Memento’s Q&A session on Tiff may not be entirely accurate – maybe it wasn’t quite as epic a session as it seemed or maybe I’m mischaracterizing an audience that might have been more irritated. with Nolan that productively. confused.
Memento would go on a strange journey afterward, picking up a screenwriting award at Sundance the following year (after a UK release months earlier) but falling into the hands of a now-defunct small distributor, Newmarket Films, after others felt the film would frustrate audiences. Now, 20 years later, Nolan’s neo-noir puzzle box plays out as one of the key artworks of the 21st century, predicting an era in which reality is more of a personal and selective construction of comforting biases than a set of widely agreed facts. Memento’s hero is Leonard Shelby, a “monster” whose short-term memory loss had led him to piece together clues in a murder mystery with Polaroid and tattoos, confident that his system will reveal the truth about his wife’s death. Your certainty is a mistake. His system is being polluted, mostly by himself.
We are all Leonard Shelby. We are all monsters.
Once you get past all the questions about how Memento works, with its cross-flow of scenes going backwards (in color) and forwards (in black and white) in time, there is the devastating reveal that awaits you. And it would be an early lesson in how to view Nolan’s work, which may appear intentionally dark or misleading at first glance, but often produces a huge emotional reaction at second, third, or fourth. He has more faith in audiences than the distributors who streamed Memento, and his stubbornness on this front has only calcified over time. (Tenet, his most recent movie, may be the hardest to crack.)
Memento sounds like a disease from the movies, but it’s actually real: Leonard (Guy Pearce) has anterograde amnesia, a condition that prevents him from storing recent memories while keeping long-term memories intact. He can remember everything that happened to him up to the rape and murder of his wife, but his mind has been a sieve every day after that. The film begins with an action that Leonard takes to avenge his wife’s death, then follows the breadcrumbs that led him to that place, including relationships with shady characters like Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) and Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss). , who may be manipulating their condition for their own purposes. At the same time, we follow Leonard in a black and white conversation he’s having on a motel phone with … someone, and we remember his days as an insurance investigator, when he met Sammy Jenkis (Stephen Tobolowsky), a client with the same affliction.
Drawing from his brother Jonathan’s short story Memento Mori, who has been toying with the same themes lately on the HBO series Westworld, Nolan has written a noir so simple that it would be insultingly simple in a straightforward chronology, but it remains a constant challenge. , even on the nth display, to keep up with going back in time. There’s not much competition for the award, but Memento is Nolan’s funniest movie, taking every opportunity to make jokes about Leonard’s disorientation, like planting him in the middle of a shootout where he doesn’t know if he’s the chaser or if he is. they are chasing. Or a more subtle joke where we learn in one scene why a barfly laughs in another. At the same time, a couple of surprising scenes in which Natalie sadistically manipulates him creates suspense in the desperate and desperate search for a pen.
Memento takes, as a starting point, the idea that memories are the building blocks of what makes us human: they inform our sense of ourselves, our relationships with other people, our basic foundation in time and space. And in a genre known to unreliable storytellers, memory makes him a stealthy central character, telling Leonard (and us) things that turn out not to be true. But the coldest splash of water on your face is knowing that Leonard is manipulating himself as heinously as the motel manager who is charging him for two rooms or the fatal woman who is using him as a blunt instrument. Choose the story you want to believe, and it colors your soul with the permanence of a tattoo or a Polaroid.
“So you lie to yourself to be happy,” Teddy tells him. “We all do.” That Leonard’s lies revolve around a hole in this life, or, what is more poignant, the once warm place in his bed that is now empty, does not bring him happiness, but it does alleviate his pain in a way. ritual and give it a purpose. If you didn’t lie to yourself, you would have to accept the fact that you will never know if a day, weeks, or months has passed, or that no system can make you get past the time your wife was killed. He may not be the hero of his own story. That is too much for any of us.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism