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IN SHORT: .tnaillirB [Rated R for violence, language, and some drug content. 116 minutes]
If you haven't figured it out from the graphic above, everything is backwards. otnemeM = Memento. tnaillirB = Brilliant. In plain English, Memento = Brilliant. And so is the website, knowledge of whose content (unlike The Blair Witch Project) is not required to enjoy the film.
From the very first frame of Christopher Nolan's Memento, you are aware that time is moving backwards. A polaroid of a murder scene "undevelops". The picture is taken. The murderer is seen revealed in the moments before he pulls the trigger. Then we see the scene leading up to the pulling of the trigger. As the film progresses, we move farther back in time, with scenes briefly repeated until we get used to the concept and then the film intercuts black and white footage of a phone conversation, in which time moves forward.
The description is accurate. If it's confusing in black and white print, it is anything but in moving pictures on the big screen. It works because it quickly becomes apparant that the first murder you see is a revenge killing carried out by a man whose brain is damaged in such a way that he can't remember anything subsequent to the events that damaged him in the first place. We're going to lay this out briefly and succinctly. Even with as much as we'll reveal, there's no spoiler warning necessary.
And if you're thinking that this is yet another "guy gets hit in the head and loses his memory" story, there's two things to tell you. First, we used to think the amnesia bit was a dumb soap opera device -- until we got whacked ourselves (you have read the History of Cranky, haven't you?). We lost ten years and most everything more than two weeks back is hazy. Second, this is an extraordinarily well told tale.
Once upon a time Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) and his lovely wife were attacked in their home. The wife was raped and murdered. Leonard sustained a severe blow to the left side of the head, but not before firing a gunshot that took down one attacker. For Leonard, his second to last cogent memory is of being hit from behind after firing the shot. Therefore, there had to be a second attacker. Despite that recollection, the police are satisfied and the file is closed. For an unspecified period of time, police file in hand, he has roamed from town to town looking for a mysterious John or James G. He's organized, his former skills as an insurance investigator come in handy as he stuffs his pockets with notes of what to do and what he has learned and polaroid photographs of where he's been and who he's seen. The polaroids are notated back and front and these clues will change as we move backward in the time stream.
There are two principal characters Leonard encounters. Natalie (Carrie Anne-Moss) is in his bed, though she doesn't appear to be his lover. As if he could remember. She adds to the mix the idea that Lenny -- his wife called him that. He hated it -- can be convinced to do "things" and will later forget all about his actions. Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) is a wisecracking friend who warns Leonard that Natalie is playing him. But on the back of Teddy's polaroid ID, the note Leonad wrote reads "don't believe his lies." Why he thinks Teddy is lying and how that came to be are things best left unrevealed.
If you start to think, as we did, "how does Leonard remember that he can't remember?" Nolan's story takes that into account, in a story of an insurance investigation Leonard carried out before the attack. That's the story moves forward in time, in the black and white sequences we mentioned above.
Just like a moebius loop, everything moving forward eventually comes into synch with everything moving backwards. Those of you who live for trying to figure out the mystery before the final reel unspools will probably crack part of it . . . we think Nolan plants his clues intentionally because once you think you've got it he hits you with a twist in the story that far outstrips anything in earlier films like The Sixth Sense.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Memento, he would have paid...
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