Our review of Memento: Special Edition, published May 21st, 2002, is also available.
Some memories are best forgotten.
In a year filled with gross out comedy and no-brainer action flicks, it was nice for moviegoers to see an intelligent, truly different movie when they went to the theaters last March. Much in the vein of complicated thrillers like The Usual Suspects and Se7en, Memento found a brand new way to tell a very old story. Working in a completely different way than other crime thrillers, Memento unfolded its story with a twist that forced audiences to sit up and pay expertly close attention to the screen. By the end of Memento, you were never sure who was who, what was what…and what was going to happen next. Derived from an original story by Jonathan Nolan and written/directed by newcomer Christopher Nolan, Memento is truly a unique movie going experience from beginning to mind-blowing end. Starring Guy Pearce (L.A. Confidential), Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix) and Joe Pantoliano (Bound, The Goonies), Memento makes its DVD debut from Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Leonard (Pearce) suffers from a rare condition involving short-term memory loss. After seeing his wife killed by assailants in his apartment, Leonard is whacked on the head and passes out. Coming to, he discovers that he can remember everything before the accident, but not after. In other words, Leonard is unable to produce new memories. His life is like a continuous re-looping—he meets someone, they talk for a while, and soon Leonard must ask the person whom they are, for he has already forgotten.
Leonard's prime goal in life is to find the man who killed and raped his wife (Jorja Fox). Since he can make no new memories, meticulous note taking, taking Polaroid pictures, and tattooing important information to his body are Leonard's only way of remembering the past. Such statement as "John G. raped and murdered my wife" populate his body as if he were part of some deranged Hell's Angel biker club.
Waking up in a hotel room he never recognizes, Leonard comes in contact with people he can't remember. Teddy (Pantoliano) is a shifty guy who says that he's Leonard's friend; however, one of Leonard's personal photos of Teddy reads, "Don't trust his lies." Natalie (Moss) is an attractive woman who wants to help Leonard solve his case. Her photo reads, "She has also lost someone. She will help you out of pity." But can Natalie really be trusted? Even though they've met, Leonard can't recall if any of these people helped or hindered Leonard's cause to find his wife's killer. In fact, Leonard doesn't always know if the notes he's taking are always accurate.
Leonard's precise notes and fanatical picture taking will be the only way he can avenge the murder of his wife. But if Leonard can't remember the present, how can he hope to solve crimes of the past?
There will be some who will walk of Memento feeling very confused, and for good reason Memento needs to be seen twice to truly understand the breadth and complexity of the story. At its best Memento can be a very baffling ride. The movie is told in a different style than most thrillers; instead of watching it from the beginning, we are subjected to seeing how the story unfolds starting at the end and moving backwards. However, by the time we're at the beginning, everything has changed…and will change once again before the movie is over. That's the charm of Memento: you never know where it's going to lead. I will readily admit that there have been times when I've loved this type of storytelling (The Game) and other times where it just plain frustrated me (The Usual Suspects). In the case of Memento, I was glued to the screen in what I feel is one of the best films of 2001.
It takes a little while to get into the groove of Memento. At first, viewers will be scratching their heads, but once it's clear how the story is unfolding it will be much easier to immerse oneself in the plot and characters. The story is nothing new: a man must avenge his wife's murder. The way the movie unfolds is what makes it so original and exciting. Director Christopher Nolan plays on our expectations of how films like this should operate. We've all seen this type of story before on Lifetime or the TBS Movie Of The Week, but Nolan makes sure that he puts a lot of backspin on the ideas behind Memento to make is seem very fresh.
At the heart of the film is professional and wiry performances by Memento's three leads. Guy Pearce, already familiar to audiences who saw the Academy Award winning L.A. Confidential, is very good as Leonard, our unwitting host. The character of Leonard relies on being angry and vengeful, but also continuously going back to the same emotions he displayed in the scene before. I suspect that Leonard was a tough character for Pearce to nail since there is generally no real character arc for Leonard to go through. Conditioning, routine, and habit are what make Leonard's life possible. Pearce is able to bring some sympathetic pathos and humor to the mentally doomed character. Carrie-Ann Moss and Joe Pantoliano are both equally good in roles that require them to interact with Leonard through skeptical eyes. I've always enjoyed Pantoliano in almost everything he's done, be it light comedy (The Goonies, Midnight Run) or action packed drama (The Fugitive), and in Memento he plays the quintessential Pantoliano character: sneaky, fast-talking, and funny. Rounding off a great supporting cast is character actor Stephen Tobolowsky (Groundhog Day) as Sammy Jankis, Leonard's link to the past…and his frustrating condition.
Memento is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Not much to say about this transfer except that it looks nearly perfect. There was a small amount of edge enhancement spotted in a few scenes, but nothing that will detract from the viewing of the film. Colors were bold and bright with blacks solid and very dark. Memento ends up being a very well done transfer by the people at Columbia TriStar.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 as well as Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, both in English. This is not a sound effects heavy film, though there were instances where the surround feature was engaged very heavily (mostly during the flashback sequences). Dialogue, effects and music were all perfectly mixed with no hiss or distortion present. Subtitles in Spanish and English are also included.
Memento may not be packed to the brim with extra material, but it does include a few treats that should make fans happy (and a menu that should confuse them even more). First up is a feature titled "Memento" which is a gaggle of tidbits and information about the movie. The menu for this is a newspaper that includes different routes (i.e., "Local," "Photographs," et cetera) to different sections of information (including pictures, scribbled notes, photos, and info on the different characters). This was a very strange feature and I wasn't sure what the point of it was (except to include slight information on different parts of the movie).
"Memento Mori" is the short story by Jonathan Nolan and is presented in print in its entirety. I will be honest in saying that I haven't read the entire story, but I am sure that it will be a nice companion piece for those who loved the film. A 24-minute interview with Christopher Nolan is included from the IFC (Independent Film Channel, for those who aren't hip to the lingo), and this is a nice piece for a look into the ideas behind Memento. "Tattoos" lets the viewer flip around pictures of the tattoos lining Leonard's body, as well as drawings from the production. Finally there are some bios on the cast and director, a theatrical trailer and TV spot for Memento, and a trailer for Nolan's previous effort Following.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Of course, with a movie like Memento, there will always be easily spotted plot holes. For instance, how does Leonard know that he has a short-term memory condition if he can't remember anything after the accident? And by the same token, how does he remember to check the photographs he's taken? You could rake a film like Memento through the fire over and over again, but it seems relatively pointless—just enjoy it for what it is: vast entertainment.
Certainly, a commentary track by writer/director Christopher Nolan would have been more than welcome, bringing some extra-added depth into the knowledge of the script. I have heard unconfirmed rumblings that there may be a "special edition" in the works sometime soon from Columbia, so let's keep our fingers crossed.
A wonderfully twisting tale that will boggle the mind, Memento is undoubtedly worth your time as a rental, and even more so as a purchase. Though the supplements are not as plentiful as one would hope, Columbia has nonetheless done a stellar enough job on both the transfer and the audio portions of this disc to warrant it way above average. I can't tell you how much I thoroughly I enjoyed watching Memento. Movies like this are what I live for (well, that and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue).
Free to go…I think…wait, what was I just talking about? Oh yeah, Memento! A great movie that I think everyone should…uh…wait…who are you?
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• "Memento" Notes
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