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From Under A Rock: Memento

April 29, 2017 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
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From Under A Rock: Memento  


This week’s pick is one Michael asked Aaron to pick for him. Aaron thinks he remembers it being good, but it has been a few years.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Michael chose Bio-Dome. This week Aaron takes Michael out from under the proverbial rock to show him Memento.

Released: September 5th, 2000
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Christopher Nolan (based on a story by Jonathan Nolan)
Guy Pearce as Leonard
Carrie-Anne Moss as Natalie
Joe Pantoliano as Teddy

Aaron Hubbard: I first saw Memento in 2010 when it was cropping up on a lot of “Best of the Decade” lists. Chris Nolan was the new hotness after The Dark Knight and Inception, and I had to check this one out.

Michael Ornelas: I saw pieces of this movie around the same time and couldn’t get into because of a distaste for the guy who insisted my group of friends watch it. This was an unfair situation for this movie, because I feel like I deprived myself of a truly unique experience. This movie was great!
The Importance of Editing
Aaron: If you’re a serious film person and you’ve taken time to learn some of the craft that goes into it, it can be hard to explain how something like film editing can make or break a film. Memento, to me, is a triumph of the art. If the film were cut together in a chronological fashion, it would be a decent but unspectacular film. But by assembling it as a film told in reverse order, with each scene ending where the previous began, it manages to feel cohesive and becomes something brilliant.

Michael: As a little bit of an editor myself, I can speak to the fact that it can be HARD to properly capture the emotion of a scene, let alone of a whole story. Memento isn’t just a series of scenes sequenced in a unique order, but it’s also a project that builds emotional tension to a fever pitch despite not being in the “proper” order, and that is one of the craziest things about how well-put-together this movie really is. The use of black and white, while a little bit of a cop out, was an absolute must as it served as a road map for the audience. I was a huge fan of all the liberties and choices made while editing this movie.

Aaron: I know there’s a cut of this in chronological order, and I can’t even picture it like that. It’d have the climax thirty minutes in, and then it would spend the rest of the runtime with the consequences of it. I know some have trouble with the weird order of things, but it really is what makes Memento what it is.
Fluid Character Dynamics
Michael: The thing that most impressed me by how the narrative unfolds is the way it changes my view on certain characters. Take Teddy, for example. At the start of the film, we assume Lenny killed a bad guy. We see “Don’t believe his lies” and we think that the right guy died. As the plot progressed, I got more and more anxious by what I assumed were Teddy’s “lies”, but when we see the situation that unfolds in the climax of the film (which is chronologically the middle of the film), my perspective completed its shift. I know it’s not definitive, but I came away from the film thinking that Teddy was a good guy (relative to Lenny — he was still a crooked cop). I find that a fascinating way to present a story and it changed the way I viewed Natalie and ultimately Lenny as well. We assumed they were good people, but then we were given reasons to doubt. I hated Natalie in the middle of her arc, but getting justification as to why she’s using Lenny the way she is blew my mind. I’ve never viewed so many characters in so many different ways in such a short period of time.

Aaron: I’ve seen the film twice and never seen anything about Teddy that made me think “trustworthy”. But maybe that’s because he’s played by Joe Pantoliano and I’ll never trust him after The Matrix. I do think it’s a fascinating look at how our perceptions can be altered from reality. My favorite scene in this movie is when Natalie drives Leonard into hitting her, and then uses his memory to manipulate him to suit her needs. It changes how the previous (or future) scene plays, and how we view Natalie. To me, it shows off best why Memento is such an interesting film. And I also feel it’s the best acting I’ve ever seen out of Carrie-Anne Moss.

Michael: I’d agree, though to be fair, I’ve only seen her in this and The Matrix, so I’m not exactly drawing from a very large sample. Lenny’s case is the most interesting to me because we trust that he’s honest with himself at the very least, but by the end of the film, we’re provided with a substantial amount of evidence that he’s not to be trusted as a narrator or as a person. He garners a tremendous amount of audience sympathy due to his condition, but the story structure very quickly strips that away at the end of the movie. That’s another reason the structure is so fascinating: they’re able to hold off on making this guy seem like a potential monster (in my opinion) until the very end, where chronologically we’d dislike him much sooner, or at the very least be skeptical of his motivations.
Chris Nolan as a Director
Aaron: Memento put Christopher Nolan on the map with film buffs, while Batman Begins and The Dark Knight made him known to a much larger audience. Nolan is a very talented, very bold technical director; he has big ideas, knows how to present them so well that it looks easy, and makes great movies consistently. BUT… I’ve found myself becoming less impressed with him over time. He has a knack for unfulfilling twist endings, for one. The dialogue often feels wooden and inhuman for another. He’s still very good, but I’ve found that his films lack real meaning once you get over how smartly they are assembled. Memento, for me, is no exception. What are your thoughts on his body of work?

Michael: I think that he has his place among the modern greats. No one is perfect, and Nolan is evidence of that, but I think the grand design and ambition he puts into his features is incredible. Inception is probably his best in that regard, but I’m a big fan of The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises as well (I know we disagree a little bit on that one). Nolan also has a tendency to write with his brother, so it’s hard to tell who has the final say on his dialogue (which I can agree is probably the weakness in a lot of his filmography). At the end of the day, most great directors still have flaws and Nolan is no different. Tarantino has obvious pitfalls in that he’s self-indulgent. James Cameron is very similar to Nolan in his ambition but his stories don’t always pace well. Wes Anderson can only do one style (but he does it so well). I don’t think a “perfect” director exists and that’s what distinguishes them from one another.

Aaron: I think it’s absolutely fair to say that. I definitely still like Nolan (and I think he’s better when Jonathan Nolan is writing than when he has to deal with David S. Goyer), but perhaps we were too quick to anoint him as the greatest thing ever a few years back. But he’s certainly still closer to Kubrick than Shyamalan by a long stretch.

Michael: I don’t really have anything I can fault this movie for. That said, the difference between an A and an A+ is a gut feeling and I didn’t necessarily get that from this film. Maybe because I worry that without the gimmick of its presentation, it wouldn’t be nearly as compelling? But that’s also a testament to how great the presentation is. Either way, it’s a fantastic movie with a ton to dissect and I plan on watching it again sooner than later.


Aaron: Memento is a great film, one that blows the mind on first viewing. It demands you pay attention, it has good performances from interesting, less exposed talents, and its editing is absolutely incredible. But, on a second viewing, I found it to be a bit hollow under the skin, and so I don’t consider it an all-out classic.


Michael: I’m really glad we did this one. Nolan truly is one of the modern greats.

Aaron: I also can’t believe they want to remake this. I can’t see this gimmick working more than once.

What are your thoughts on Chris Nolan’s filmography?

Next week:

Michael: Ken Wood comments on this column pretty much every week, so you know what? Let’s watch his recommendation next week. This was on my list of picks anyways, and it’s been foreeeeever since I last watched it. It’s also a Guy Pearce movie so it relates to Memento.
LA Con
Aaron: Hey, I’ve heard plenty of good things about this, so I’m excited. And a genuine thanks to Ken and all of our readers; your discussion makes this column fun every week!

Michael: It’s the internet — I expect people to be mean. Y’all have been pretty nice to us and we appreciate that greatly!

What’s your favorite neo-noir film?

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The final score: review Amazing
The 411
Memento is an excellent film that holds up exceptionally well. Christopher Nolan uses what some might call a gimmick to tell a story about memory and subjective reality. It is a little hard to follow the unique structure at times, but it's worth the effort because once it gets rolling, this film is riveting.