This imaginative and daring film is demanding, agile, sly, and witty. Bobbing and weaving, it manages to keep you off balance and on your toes.
Pearce plays Leonard Shelby, a guy who wakes up every morning without knowing where he is, or why he’s there. This is because of a mental condition caused by being hit on the head by an intruder. Now Leonard has become obsessed with his mission to catch this man who – as he repeatedly explains to anyone who will listen – raped and murdered his wife.
But he now has a short-term memory loss problem, meaning that although he can remember everything from before he lost his wife, now, after every 15 minutes, everything is wiped out. So Leonard has to take polaroids of key people that he meets, and vital facts have to be agonisingly tattooed on his body in case he loses handwritten notes. These shuffled photos and bizarre corporeal messages become Leonard’s grotesque simulacrum of existence.
“How am I supposed to feel, when I can’t feel time?” Leonard moans. And, correspondingly, how is Christopher Nolan going to construct a thriller without the continuous thread of time and memory to slot its constituent scenes together? That he is able to do so, daringly abolishing normal narrative rules, is proof of a precocious imagination and technical facility.
The key motif is the wound: Leonard begins the movie with two nasty and mysterious scratch marks on his left cheek; in successive scenes these are shown in random stages of bloom, like the Polaroids Leonard takes. And when Leonard meets the beautiful and enigmatic Natalie (Moss), a bartender and girlfriend of a local drug-dealer, she too is sporting a livid welt to the cheek and a split lip.
“How have they got these marks?” is the question – and the answer comes in fragments, a jumbled tale of violence and double-cross. Like a creepy kaleidoscope, each nudge and twist seems to jolt the disordered pieces into a new pattern.
Leonard’s friends are also his tormentors. They claim to be helping him, but are they just using the poor muddled dupe to advance their own nefarious ends? It is not merely Natalie that Leonard has to worry about: there is also the deeply sinister Teddy (Joe Pantoliano), a chipper guy who appears to want nothing more than to help. Wherever Leonard is, whatever stage the narrative is at, whatever state his cheek-wound is in, the grinning Teddy is there, trying to help him find his wife’s assailant. It is an excellent performance from Pantoliano, who attains a hideous, Mephistophelean potency.
There’s a twist in the tail, obviously; in fact a mighty lash in the tail, which somehow manages to be more shocking and upsetting for emerging from this weird, fractured puzzle.
Memento is a film high on thrills and high on IQ – an impressive new step in the career of this heavyweight director. Excerpts from review by Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian.
‘An extraordinary film’ – Observer
Directed by Christopher Nolan with Guy Pearce and Carrie-Anne Moss
(2000) 113 minutes. Cert 15.
Thursday 18 September
7pm: music/bar with drinks and themed snacks
FREE RAFFLE PRIZE kindly donated by Rye Books and Push Studios
Tickets £7 online from WeGotTickets
Or in person from:
Push Studios, 7-19 Blackwater Street SE22
Rye Books, 45 Upland Road SE22
East Dulwich Tavern, 1 Lordship Lane SE22
or on the door.
Upstairs at the East Dulwich Tavern, 1 Lordship Lane, East Dulwich, SE22
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The Bigger Picture partners with Scala Beyond Film Festival 2014 the nation-wide celebration of cinema.