Christopher Nolan’s second major film as director is very cleverly told, and is really an indication that as a director he is not afraid to challenge audiences, believing us to actually be quite intelligent. Based on the short story “Memento Mori” written by Chris’ brother Jonathan, Memento is really a very linear story; however, the film is not so straightforward. One section of the film is in black & white and plays forward, being concerned with Leonard’s background; the first part of the film essentially. The “second” part of the film, shot in colour, is interspersed with the “first” part, but the narrative is backwards. So the film starts at the end, and the two sections meet in the middle, at the end of the film.
This may initially sound like quite a pretentious thing to do, but it is very clever and actually makes complete sense with respect to the story. Running chapters of the story backwards (in reverse order of course, not actually backwards, that would be nuts) means that for any given scene, how Leonard arrives at that situation is unknown. This is exactly how Leonard feels because he can’t form new memories. This goes beyond empathising with the character, because of this narrative technique we are afflicted with the same condition as Leonard. Fantastic.
Guy Pearce is excellent as Leonard, being helpless yet determined, and often the voice of his thoughts as he tries to figure out what is going on. The two main support actors are also great. Joe Pantoliano is perfect as Teddy, the cop that is helping Leonard in his investigation. His exuberance balances Leonard’s quiet and calculated approach; he plays the fine line between help and hindrance very well, so that we are never quite sure of his motives. Carrie-Ann Moss, is also very good as the girl stuck in a bad relationship, who sees Leonard as a means to an end. I should also mention some lovely cinematography by long-term Chris Nolan favourite Wally Pfister; particularly some of the moody “colour” interiors, and the high-contrast shots for the black & white sequences, which perhaps all add to the confusion felt by Leonard.
It is certainly a film that demands a re-watch, I think one of the DVD extras allows you to watch the film in chronological order, but that of course lessens the impact of it all.