Movie of the Week: “Memento”

Written by Joey Simpson October 09, 2012

We welcome you to the second edition of We Eat Films’ Movie of the Week. This week we delve into the deep recesses of the psyche for our cinematic thrill-seeking. Our film this week is the first major studio release from a director who, in the last couple of years has had a meteoric rise, and is no stranger to the thriller genre. Next time you watch “Inception” or “The Prestige” be prepared to pick up on a few cues from this puzzling film.

This edition of Movie of the Week is…”Memento” (Christopher Nolan, 2000)

Picking up the Pieces in “Memento”

Leonard Shelby (Guy Pierce) is your everyday suburban badass, is searching for one of two men who raped and killed his wife in a botched break-in. He successfully subdues one of the men, but the other slips away after clubbing Shelby in the head. This attack causes him to lose his short-term memory, where he cannot create new memories after a few minutes. To catch his assailant, he creates a series of visual clues which he tattoos onto his body as long-term reminders of his progress. Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano, co-stars of “The Matrix” (another epistemologically challenging film), appear as his contacts and aids; but for Shelby his lack of memory imbues in him an innate lack of trust and judgment.

Critics have long seen this film as a marvel of narrative ingenuity, with its double-narrative structure drawing comparisons to techniques developed by William Faulkner and Jorge Luis Borges. The film follows two narratives cutting between the two in chapters: one stream is shot in black-and-white and dominated by hotel room scenes and introspection and goes forward in time while the other, shot in colour, gradually moves backwards. This style often demands a fully attentive viewer to catch and recollect all of the small details once the two narratives meet up, leaving a very jarring but enlightening experience.

A Picture Holds a Thousand Words

The central themes discussed in “Memento” is memory and knowledge. Shelby cannot create new memories, and thus relies on his visual clues to aid him almost every few minutes. But what we soon discover is that the clues themselves are ambiguous, and Shelby himself changes his facts as he goes. Without a solid foundation on which to base his a priori knowledge, the hope of discovering anything new is flawed, causing Shelby to go over certain steps more than once, even using the same evidence to come to a whole new conclusion. Any conclusions Shelby does make are subject to his interpretation, such as the identity of the mysterious John G.

The conventions of the crime/mystery genre are upheld in “Memento”. In Shelby we have both the detetctive and the hapless assistant; for every new piece of data, Shelby is equally confused and enlightened, using the data so much as it aids his own conclusion. The viewer is also unaware of Shelby’s investigation prior to the film, leaving the actual validity of Shelby’s tattoos and photographs ambiguous. But, like Shelby, as soon we feel any sort of critical advancement, the film goes through a shift in narrative and we are left just as lost as before.


Nolan’s films have always had a layer of intrigue underneath an action-based plot line, which is just as evident in his most recent films. Even if cinephile revile the mainstream appeal Nolan carries now, not many can doubt the skill he presented in this particular feature. Due considerations should also go Pierce and the films’ cast. Pierce has always been in the shadows of Hollywood, occasionally appearing in bit roles and more often in films from his native Australia. But in this starring role, he certainly brings a utilizing calm, controlled anger despite his numerous anxieties and constant amnesia (by the end, you wonder if the question “Do you remember me?” starts pissing Shelby off).

Although the film is no longer playing at Western Film, you should still see it on your own time. You owe it to yourself!

My Rating: 9/10



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