“We all need memories to remind ourselves who we are.”
This film has an astonishing plot that follows this pattern – scene segment in a backwards timeline then a side plot, also in a backwards timeline primarily shot in a different color. Guy Pearce stars as the lead character, Leonard Shelby, a man who uses a Polaroid, pen, and paper to keep important records during his quest to solve a crime due to his mental condition that affects his memory. He can remember everything in his life before he got his untreatable condition. It’s assumed in the film’s presentation that he also remembers memories at the time he got the condition, otherwise he would forget that he even had this condition and would eventually go mad.
Memento was filmed in Southern California by director Christopher Nolan, who had just previously worked on the 1998 film The Following where he acted as director, writer, editor, cinematographer, and producer. He uses his skills to present the plot with a helpful color palette where the part playing “forward” is in black and white and the part playing in reverse is in color.
Memento was also co-written by Christopher’s brother, Jonathan Tolan. Not only does the plot break the mold of conventional films, but the numerous dynamic elements of plot and unpredictable timeline take the audience on a uniquely fascinating ride. Tolan fills the screen with memorable dialogue such as “the world doesn’t disappear when you close your eyes” and drops clues of the characters’ true motives to the audience throughout the intricate plot.
The small supporting cast includes Natalie (Carrie Anne-Moss), Teddy (Joe Pantoliano), Dodd (Callum Keith Rennie), and Leonard’s wife Catherine (seasoned TV veteran Jorja Fox).
Small, intricate details taken for granted in everyday life become very important to the plot. The audience’s interest is also heightened because any given characteristic, action, or element has a potentially large relevance to the revelations and discoveries laced into the plot.
Pay close attention to the motivations and aspirations of each character during this exciting, tense modern masterpiece. Highly recommended (***1/2 out of four stars) and rated R for language, violence and drug content. Memento gives new meaning to the phrase “I can read you like a book.”
YOU CAN WATCH IT IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER…
…by answering a few “simple” questions on the Limited Edition DVD. If you go to the Special Features menu on Disc 2, and wait for Memento Mori to fade in and out, you can then push the ‘Enter’ button and find this alternate version. However, you must first answer a questionnaire and arrange a picture before the DVD will allow you to watch it in chronological order. It can be a tricky thing to accomplish, but if you do a search online for this “easter egg,” you will find out how to crack the riddle.
9. LEONARD’S MEDICAL CONDITION IS A REAL THING
Anterograde Amnesia refers to the inability to create new memories as a result of head trauma or drug/alcohol abuse. Memories prior to the injury stay intact, but short term memory and memories made post-injury cannot be stored properly and are often lost. Sufferers can carry on conversations and learn new tasks, but once they are distracted or are removed from the task, all memory of it fades. Several medical experts have praised Memento for its realistic and accurate depiction of anterograde amnesia in the character Leonard, played by Guy Pearce.
8. TOBOLOWSKY IMPROVISED ALL HIS LINES
Nolan wanted him to improvise Sammy’s lines, so the script had no written dialogue. In an interview with The A.V. Club, he said it was the most difficult part he has ever played because “part of my brain had to remember what it was doing, and another part had to not remember what I was doing.” Nolan also encouraged Guy Pearce to improvise during the scenes where he narrates Sammy’s story.
STEPHEN TOBOLOWSKY ACTUALLY HAD AMNESIA
Tobolowsky, who played amnesia-affected Sammy Jankis, suffered from temporary amnesia years before following a kidney stone procedure. When he went in for the audition, Nolan asked him why he wanted the part and Tobolowsky shared this story with him. He thinks he got the part because Nolan was so fascinated by it.
6. THE SHOOT WAS INCREDIBLY SHORT
The whole film was shot in 25 days, which is insanely fast for a movie. Nolan said actors rarely had time to leave the set and go back to their trailer. They did 40 to 50 set ups a day (the norm is 10 to 12). Guy Pearce was on set for the entire length of the shoot, but Carrie-Anne Moss shot all her scenes in eight days.
5. CHRISTOPHER NOLAN EDITED THE TRAILERS
Another major marketing strategy employed trailers, shown on cable TV channels like A&E and Bravo, and pushed on various websites. Because Newmarket both produced and distributed the film, the studio allowed Nolan to edit the trailers himself. They were a major tool in creating widespread public notice and getting audiences into theaters on opening weekend.
4. JONATHAN NOLAN STARTED A WEBSITE TO MARKET IT
Christopher convinced his brother to make the website for Memento to provide further information into the story. A newspaper clipping is shown and people can then click on certain words to learn more about the story. Per Christopher, it is a kind of three-dimensional narrative where the viewer is able to see the information in whatever order he/she finds most interesting. The website it still up and running today.
IT TOOK A LONG TIME TO FIND A DISTRIBUTOR
Studios were scared to take a chance on the film due to its challenging nature. Nolan credited it to their “lack of adventurousness.” It leaves audiences with lots of questions, and that left studios fearing no one would want to watch it. Nolan and his crew felt very hopeless at one point and did not know what to do. Luckily, Newmarket Films, the studio that produced it, decided to distribute it themselves. Financially this was quite risky, but it proved to be a profitable investment and the studios that passed on the film were left regretting their decision.
2. CHRISTOPHER WROTE THE STORY IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER
Nolan wrote the screenplay in linear order and after completing it, he went back and reordered it to follow what we see on screen. Him and his brother both agreed that the most interesting approach was to tell it from a first person perspective, but only Christopher’s version tells the story backwards.
1. IT IS BASED ON CHRISTOPHER NOLAN’S BROTHER’S STORY
While the brothers were on a road trip in 1996, Jonathan Nolan told his brother about a short story he was working on and Christopher loved the concept. He asked his brother if he could write a screenplay based on it, and the two then started simultaneously writing about the same storyline. Just as Christopher was finishing the screenplay, Jonathan completed his short story. Jonathan has co-written several screenplays with his brother, including The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and Interstellar.