Memento centres on Leonard Shelby, a man who has no short-term memories since an incident and has to leave himself notes for everything, hence the title.
Leonard (Guy Pearce, below) has tattoos all over his body telling him his destiny, which you learn early on in the film as it’s the first thing you see, about how his wife has been raped and murdered and they also include a series of “Facts” about the man – his colour, he’s male, his car registration plate and the fact he’s a drug dealer.
He also has Polaroid pictures in the pocket of his smart jacket, one of which shows a woman called Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss, lower pic), upon which, to remind himself, he’s written, “She has also lost someone. She will help you.”, and when we first see her, we see a woman who’s clearly been through the wars, courtesy of her violent boyfriend, Dodd (Callum Keith Rennie). Another has a picture of a man called Teddy (Joe Pantoliano), with the words underneath, “Don’t believe his lies.” and he comes across as a rather cocky little man and not one anyone would particularly want to spend any time with.
But nothing is simple in Memento. Leonard is suffering from a condition called anterial-grade memory loss, something he recalls when he looks at a smaller tattoo, on his hand, that simply states “Remember Sammy Jankis”. Leonard used to be an investigator for an insurance company and had to deal with a man of this name, played by the always excellent Stephen Tobolowsky, who suffered the same condition. It meant that he couldn’t remember anything beyond more than a few minutes, so there’d be no point watching a film, for example, since he wouldn’t know how it started. In a bid to try and combat this, Leonard’s mantra is that he’ll do things through repetition to learn and teach himself, not by memory but by instinct, as this relies on a different part of the brain than short-term memory. How well it works remains to be seen.
Memento is one of the most bizarre films I’ve ever seen. It’s also one of the hardest to review, but what I do know is that it’s an essential film to watch to see a masterclass in complex film-making that demands your attention. Told in reverse, but mixed in with black-and-white scenes that follow consecutively and also explains things that we’ve seen going in reverse. Confused? It’s actually more complicated to explain than it is to watch. Rest assured that Guy Pearce plays the lead perfectly and that everyone else fulfils their supporting roles more than adequately, especially Joe Pantoliano.
Trivia: Everyone knows Guy Pearce came to the fore after appearing as Mike in Neighbours, but he’s also an accomplished saxophone player, as he did occasionally on the show, and I saw him perform at Foo Foo Lamarr’s club in Oldham, Greater Manchester, back in 1988, followed by a Michael Jackson impersonator and then Foo Foo himself. Great times 🙂
Presented in the original 2.35:1 theatrical ratio and in 1080p high definition, the picture is bright, colourful and sharp and a cracking transfer all-round. For the record, I’m watching on a Panasonic 37″ Plasma screen via a Samsung BD-P1500 Blu-ray player.
Audio-wise, you get a 5.1 DTS HD MA soundtrack, for which I got the 5.1 DTS version, not that you’d know it as it just comes across like a standard Dolby Surround soundtrack. There are no split-surround effects, whatsoever.
The extras omit one feature from the Limited Edition DVD which allowed the viewer to watch the film in chronological order. Why?? I was really looking forward to that. Anyway, here’s what you do get:
- Anatomy of a Scene (25:14): Well, not really any particular scene but analysing the film in general and how its unique structure fits together, as it’s difficult to tie any one scene down in particular, and being a general sort of ‘making of’.
Mixing letterbox clips of the film with chat from various cast and crew members and the director, the latter part was clearly shot in 4:3 and then matted to 16:9 as, early on, when someone appears onscreen, e.g. writer/director Christopher Nolan being the first, it just says, “writer/director” at what is apparently the bottom of the screen, when his name would follow underneath. This continues for everyone else. How ridiculous. I can’t really blame the distributors for this as this segment has been put together by the Sundance Channel.
- IFC Interview with Christopher Nolan (23:50): The director talks about the film on the Independent Film Channel. This is split into five chapters, but oddly, stuck in the middle of a sentence(!)
- Interview with Guy Pearce (12:54): A fairly standard interview in which he talks about how he felt about making the film. This is split into two chapters, in the same clunky way.
- Split-screen shooting script: The entire thing. A wonderful extra for massive fans of the film.
- Memento Mori, narrated by Jonathan Nolan (34:02): The film came about from a short story written by the director’s brother, and here he narrates it.
- Production stills and sketches: 40 images in total, with the theme music playing in the background. There’s no time limit, as such, to this, and most of the subsequent extras, as the music plays whether you skip through the pictures manually or let it do it in its own time.
- Props Gallery: Various items from within the film, which to describe here would be a spoiler. Several images here over ten screens.
- International Poster Art: A number of designs.
- Concept Art and Bootleg Cover Art: Interesting to see a director embrace the bootleg versions, but I like the fact that he’s a completist.
- Journal: Pages from Leonard’s journal in the film.
- Tattoo Gallery: Does what it says on the tin.
- International Trailer (2:15): Cropped to 16:9, and it really suffers for that, but then this is just meant to give a flavour of the film. The way it’s put together is nicely vague, given the complexity of the movie, but I preferred to watch this knowing absolutely nothing about the plot.
- Website material: A mock-up of a newspaper article, which I won’t describe here as it would give spoilers. Click on the highlighted words within for further information.
- Director’s Commentary with 3 Alternative Endings: With writer/director Christopher Nolan and from what I can gather on a forum, as I thought I was missing something, there aren’t three movie endings, just three endings discussed in the audio commentary.
The menu mixes clips from the film with its sombre music, and repeats after a short period. The text on the main menu, itself, is incredibly small, even on a large screen TV; and oddly, if you leave the menu on for ages, which I did before starting the film as I was doing other things, initially, it stops and makes the player lock up!
There are subtitles in English only and the chaptering is ridiculously low and odd-numbered 15. This just isn’t enough for a film of almost 2 hours in length. I work on the rule of thumb for approximately one every five minutes, ensuring one apiece for the opening and closing credits.
Running time: 114 minutes
Cat no: P901607000
Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Released: October 2010
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio, DTS 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH
Widescreen: 2.35:1 (Anamorphic Panavision)
Disc Format: BD50
Director: Christopher Nolan
Producers: Jennifer Todd and Suzanne Todd
Screenplay: Christopher Nolan
Music: David Julyan
Leonard: Guy Pearce
Natalie: Carrie-Anne Moss
Teddy: Joe Pantoliano
Burt: Mark Boone Junior
Leonard’s Wife: Jorja Fox
Sammy Jankis: Stephen Tobolowsky
Mrs Jankis: Harriet Sansom Harris
Dodd: Callum Keith Rennie
Blonde: Kimberly Campbell
Tattooist: Marianne Muellerleile
Jimmy: Larry Holden
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.