Saturday, 5 November 2011

Memento

This might be my favourite movie. Ever.


It's one of those movies that, if you're not prepared for what you're in for, will blow you away. And if you don't understand it the first time (and you certainly won't), the second time will blow you away again. I've seen it three times now, and every time I see it I feel like I appreciate a bit more about the characters, the construction of the world, the style of the filmmaking, the complexity of the narrative, the themes explored elegantly in the tight, tense script. Watching this movie made Christopher Nolan my favourite director of all time, and I've loved everything he's done to varying degrees (although Insomnia is on my 'to watch' pile), but Memento is my absolute favourite.

If you have watched it, and don't feel like you understand it, This Article from Salon.com may just shed some light on it. It breaks the film down scene-by-scene, and lays out the character motivations, etc. Theres also some reflection on the meaning of the film, that should get your brain-cogs a-turning. I remember reading this years ago when I first saw it, and being almost as stunned by it as the movie itself.

Moving on: this, my third time viewing Memento, was in light of the maturity and broader perspective university allegedly endows you with, and a few things in particular clicked for me. First was the label of 'neo-noir'. If you're like me, you might have heard the term 'film noir' before. You might have thought 'gee, that sounds cool, why can't they make more of those these days?'. Y'know, the private detective, the gravelly voice over, dark urban setting, striking lines, heavy tone... I guess the thing I never quite grasped about noir is that it is a dark, dark genre. Morbid even. Cynical, certainly. I never understood why they were only made in the early hollywood days and not now. I guess the answer is: nobody wants that much depressing cinema in their lives nowadays. Film noir expresses a vision of the world that is dark, bleak, brutal, and harsh. This may not come across so strongly in older Hollywood as it does now in what have been labelled neo-noir films; new noir. Films like Sin City, parts of Watchmen and, of course, Memento, carry many of the tropes of the genre. Memento features an investigator protagonist who narrates to us through the telephone. He is cynical and paranoid, yet is seduced and screwed over by a femme fatale, Natalie. Blinds, harsh lines and light are featured prominently, and some scenes are even shot in black-and-white; a direct throwback to the noirs of the 40s. Memento embodies everything that the film noir once was... but completely turns it on its head with its transcendent style and heavy substance. This film, I would suggest, is the very definition of 'neo-noir'.

Perhaps if I type fast enough, my word count won't keep up with me?

THE SPOILERS ARE DOWN HERE.

The second thing that struck me was the way in which Leonard's world is constructed; the way it is conveyed to us, and the way it is used to reflect the kind of worlds we all live in... the ones we make for ourselves. I'll be short on this one: theres a line right at the end where Leonard says "I have to believe in a world outside my own mind". The problem being, as we shocked viewers sit there realising at this point, is that the world he thinks is outside is a fabrication. He believes Teddy is his target only because he falsely led himself to believe so. Teddy on the other hand, sees a guy with a problem, and turns him into an opportunity to profit from a scam. What I'm saying is: if you approach the film with the thought in mind: how does the way Leonard constructs a world for himself reflect the way we as individuals construct our own world? How much of what we perceive comes from what we construct for ourselves to perceive?... I could elaborate on this all day, but I've blown my word limit, I need to call it sometime.

Theres so much to be said and thought about in this movie. It deserve repeat viewing time and again. Works best with someone who hasn't seen it before - just don't give it away!