Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Memento (4 Stars)

"I always thought the pleasure of a book is in wanting to know what happens next".

But what if you read the last chapter of a book first? And then the one before it, working backwards until you finally get to the first chapter, which explains the background for everything you've just read?

The film deals with a man who suffers from "anterograde amnesia", a rare illness that I've never heard of. The illness seems so unusual in the film that I doubted at first that it really exists, but evidently it does, and the portrayal of the illness in the film has been described as realistic. Anterograde amnesia is an illness in which a person is unable to form new memories, even though he remembers everything that happened before the illness began. This means that only the person's short term memory is impaired; he can remember what happened a few years ago perfectly, but he can't remember what he did a few hours ago.

I suspect that people with this illness would be totally unable to function in society, but the film shows a man, Leonard Shelby, who has found a unique way to deal with it. He carries a Polaroid camera with him at all times, taking photos of important people and objects, and making notes on the photos to read when he has forgotten what they are. The problem with this is that he suspects people around him of falsifying or destroying notes, so he tattoos the most important notes onto his body.

The film starts with Leonard waking up in a hotel room with the photo of a man and the written instruction "Kill him". A few minutes later Leonard sees this man, so he shoots him. The rest of the film, shown backwards, unravels what led to this murder. As we work our way backwards through the chapters of the book we think we understand what it was about, but we don't find the answers until we reach chapter one.

This was the breakthrough film for Christopher Nolan. When it was made in 2000 it received great critical acclaim, as well as box office success. Interestingly, it wasn't shown in America until a year after its release. The American distributors turned it down, since they thought it would be too difficult for American audiences to understand. They only changed their minds after they saw how successful it was in England and other countries.

Just one hint, something that I missed when watching it. The film is shown in alternating colour and b/w sequences. The colour sequences are in reverse chronological order, which was obvious to me, but the black and white sequences are in chronological order. If I'd known this I would have picked up some of the subtleties. I'll pay attention to this next time I watch it.

This diagram, copied from Wikipedia, shows the correlation between the film and the real life events. You can click on the image to enlarge it.

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