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Review: Memento leaves little worth remembering

Memento begins with a revenge killing by an avenger who has only a hazy understanding of what he is doing and why he is doing it. This is because he suffers from short-term memory loss. Leonard (Guy Pearce) remembers everything up to the day his wife was raped and murdered but can't form new memories. For all he knows, she could have been killed 10 years ago or last Tuesday.
From the bloody opening, Memento travels backward in time, scene by scene tracing Leonard's quest to find his wife's murderer. As the film unfolds, earlier scenes - which happen later in real time - begin to make sense. Two questions drive the action: did he get the right man? And how does he cope with his dysfunctional memory?


Because of his short-term memory loss, Leonard has to tatoo notes on his body to stay on the trail of his wife's killer.
photo: Courtesy Tatrafilm

Memento

Running time: 113 minutes
Starring: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss
Rating: 7 out of 10

Memento begins with a revenge killing by an avenger who has only a hazy understanding of what he is doing and why he is doing it. This is because he suffers from short-term memory loss. Leonard (Guy Pearce) remembers everything up to the day his wife was raped and murdered but can't form new memories. For all he knows, she could have been killed 10 years ago or last Tuesday.

From the bloody opening, Memento travels backward in time, scene by scene tracing Leonard's quest to find his wife's murderer. As the film unfolds, earlier scenes - which happen later in real time - begin to make sense. Two questions drive the action: did he get the right man? And how does he cope with his dysfunctional memory?

To call Memento complicated would be like calling its main character forgetful. Here is a man who can't remember who he is talking to if he speaks for more than five minutes, who wakes up in bed with strange women having no idea where he is, whose enemies tell him to his face that they are going to use him because they know in two minutes it will have disappeared from his mind.

His life preserver is a complicated system of tattoos, notes and Polaroids that reminds him to hunt his wife's killer and holds all the important clues he has gathered so far about her case. Emblazoned on his chest is a message telling him she was raped and murdered. Facts such as a licence plate number, "white male" and "drug dealer" are scrawled on his arms and thighs. Polaroids of his Jaguar and a skid-row hotel remind him of where he lives and what he drives. He carries a picture of a girl name Natalie with the message "She will help you".


Guy Pearce as Leonard in Memento.
photo: Courtesy Tatrafilm

Director Christopher Nolan holds together the fabric of the plot for half the film. At that point, as the story unspools backwards, key plot lines become so frayed and worn that forthcoming scenes - which are, again, in the past - are unable to tie them back together.

Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss), for instance, seems to help Leonard by giving him an envelope with information crucial to finding the killer. We come to see them arranging this meeting and later learn when, where and why she agreed to help him. But we never find out when they first met, or who in the world this person named Dodd is that she is so afraid of.

It's like that with most of the plot lines in Memento. All vague double and triple crosses and outlines of a reality that someone probably made up anyway. Amidst this confusion we are left to wonder whether Leonard is a lunatic with no concept of reality, or the victim of other people's deceptions and his own broken mind. I suppose the point is to experience the uncertainty he feels constantly, which makes Memento a great curiosity but not a great film.

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