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Movie Review

Memento

MPAA Rating: R for violence, language and some drug content

Reviewed by: Seth T. Hahne
CONTRIBUTOR

Very Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Drama, Thriller
Length:
2 hr.
Year of Release:
2001
USA Release:
_____
Relevant Issues
Scene from “Memento”
Featuring: Mark Junior Boone, Harriet Harris, Jorja Fox, Guy Pearce, Joe Pantoliano
Director: Christopher Nolan
Producer: Jennifer Todd, Suzanne Todd, Aaron Ryder, William Tyrer, Chris J. Ball
Distributor: Newmarket Film Group
Carrie-Anne Moss in “Memento”

The infidelity of memory. Christopher Nolan’s sophomore film creation, the noirish “Memento”, bleeds a violent forgetfulness. And a painful ambiguity. And a bleak uncertainty. His amazing and abrupt study of mental corruption plays with the viewer’s expectations and leaves each one with a different understanding of “what really happened.”

Told in anything but common fashion, “Memento” begins with the scene with which, chronologically, it ought to have concluded. Then it proceeds in two convergent narrative lines (one from the present backward and the other from the past forward) elucidated in brief snippets mirroring the forgetful condition of the numbing tale’s protagonist.

Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce of “L.A. Confidential”) seeks to revenge his wife’s rape and murder. His life is pumped forward by this engagement, but he has a problem: a chronic forgetfulness. Due to a condition brought on by an injury sustained while attempting to thwart his wife’s assailants, he has no ability to create new memories. His memory works normally as regards to everything preceding the incident, but to his (and others’) great detriment, his memory for current and recent events lasts only so long as his attention span. Needless to say, this is not an ideal situation for someone attempting an investigation into a murder three years passed.

Leonard attempts to overcome his handicap by taking Polaroids of important people, places, and events, and writing helpful notes on their backsides, and by tattooing vital information onto his body. At first, this seems adequate to get him through life, but as the viewer soon realizes how woefully inadequate his methods are while seeing how other characters relate to him.

The film creates that same kind of tension that is found in all mysteries by allowing the audience only selected pieces of information at a time and only as the final scene ends does the viewer have an accurate portrait of what has really occurred. Or not. Nolan, by superb direction, turns what could have been a lackluster tale of vengeance (a la “Payback” or “The Patriot”) into something much more. While dealing handily with the pain of forgetfulness, “Memento” delves, at heart, into an exploration of how easy it can be to convince oneself of something other than reality simply because it’s more comfortable to believe the lie than the truth.

As far as the Christian audience is concerned, a high degree of caution is recommended. The violence can be grisly and the language is coarse. But over and beyond the overt, “Memento” presents a world of confusion and suffering that is bound to trouble more sensitive viewers. None of the characters inhabit a world that at all reflects a Christian morality.

All in all, “Memento” is an amazing film with fine acting and incredible direction that says a lot. But most Christians will have a difficult time sifting through the grime to find the treasures buried deep within. it’s not for all people. But neither were other fascinating-but-edgy films like “Fight Club,” “Pi,” “Citizen Kane”, or “Brazil”.


Viewer Comments
Positive—I saw this movie with a TV Guardian and heard no cussing, but there is A LOT. Without the language this was a great movie. No sex, little violence, and one of the best and most original plots ever. it’s not for kids or people who get confused or board easily, but it’s awesome. it’s amazingly acted, directed and if you have a cuss filter see it.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 5]
—TLF, age 16
Neutral—Memento was a fantastic movie. It draws you into the story from beginning to end. it’s about a man who has no short term memory. The movie basically plays backwards. Guy Pierce did an excellent job and this movie is definitely intruiging. However, there was quite a bit of language which can be offending. The un-needed language turns this great movie into a good movie. Not recommended for people who are easily offended.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 5]
—Aaron Arneson, age 17
I believe the writer of this movie would have us question the belief system we now have. Just as Lenny, in his weakness with no memory must live in the ever present with only “facts” that are without ultimate meaning, with only one small slip the truth behind the facts becomes false, with nothing to stand on. This is how we go through life, trusting on things we didn’t experience but “facts” we take as truth. We trust the Bible as truth and I felt as though this film wants us to question this, as most of the world does. Did man in his search for meaning create God to give us purpose in life, as I believe this film suggests, or did God in his love give us knowledge of the truth to set us free?
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 4½]
—Matt Brinckehoff, age 28
Memento was a fabulous film in its direction, acting, storytelling, etc. It is a certainly must see and it has not been lost on the Academy by ballot time will be in consideration for Best Picture, as well as other honors. One thing I have not seen mentioned here or on other review sites is the absolutely disturbing premise of this story about the quality of knowledge? We all share, to some degree, the condition of Lenny—our world and our identity are completely constructed by memory! Apart from our recollections of the world we do not know what is true or false, who to trust, where things are. The point of the film, from this philosophical vantage point, is that Lenny functions the way we all function. Lenny, however, must resort to pictures and text to “reset” his world whereas we are all able to “make new memories” as well as reference old ones to construct that which we call “reality” and to know the person we call “ourself.” This is an absolutely frightening epistemic premise—all knowledge of the world and of ourselves is purely constructed and, as a result, is only as reliable as our best recollection of the ever-emerging past. But this understanding of knowledge is absolutely correct! For the Christian faith, the profundity of the point the film makes from this perspective is found in Scripture’s continual admonition to “remember.” By remembering Jesus Christ, remembering the deeds of God among the people of Israel, we construct a world where God’s purposes are fulfilled in the world. Now, I’m not suggesting that this particular type of recollection is commended by the film. However, the epistemic premise of the film leads us to reconsider the quality of our knowledge of the “real” and to open ourselves, as Christians, up to what it really means to “know” God as revealed in Jesus Christ through the formative power of recollection and memory.
My Ratings: [5]
—Carl F. Flynn, age 30
Magnificent! This is a brilliant film. I totally agree with the reviewer Brian that the film’s core revolves around revenge. I just didn’t know how dynamic it would be when I saw the movie. I saw it with my father. Sadly, he believes that ALL of Hollywood is corrupt, and that no writer would think to make a film which has a deep meaning. He thought it was, “Okay.” I however, am in love with it. It is easily the best film out this year as of 4-27-01. I love Guy Pierce. I loved him in “L.A. Confidential” and the underrated “Ravenous.” He is a remarkable actor, as are Joey Pants, and Carrie Ann Moss. And the actor who played Sammy! [from “The Insider” and “Groundhog Day”] This is the film I’ve been waiting for. It is so very tragic and so poignant. It is so sad when he lays in bed, remembering his wife. He speaks of his sadness when he would wake up and she wasn’t there, how the bed would be cold, and he wished he had her because life made sense and had meaning when he was with her. That is what he is now searching for: Meaning. Oh, I just love this movie. There is no sex or nudity, and the language [other than one scene] is relatively tame. I would also like to point out that the film has amazing wit in dealing with Leonard’s “condition”. I highly recommend this movie. But, be forewarned, it is VERY film noir.
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Jason Eaken, age 17
Many Christians will be offended with this movie because of its violent premise. But some will find a certain amount of Christian truth in this wonderful movie. In the movie, we have a character with no short term memory. He can, however, select the kind of memory he chooses to remember. This may or may not be a good thing. He is searching for truth. But in his clearest moment, when he has the ability to choose to know himself, he runs away from self-knowledge. He also runs away from a life without purpose. How many searchers for truth have done the same thing when confronted with the truth about themselves! I highly recommend this movie. it’s tough going. But it’s a neat little game. Movie as “memory-game.”
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Carole McDonnell, age 41
you’ll probably leave the theater feeling confused. The creator of the movie adds a great deal of information in the final 20 minutes some of which seems to conflict. I didn’t find it that morally objectionable. The main character is more confused than amoral. They didn’t present a happy ending or one where amoral actions bring good results as many Hollywood movies. I don’t think this movie will shake up a Christian much one way or the other, but you may wonder why you spent so much money to leave mildly confused and bewildered.
My Ratings: [Average / 3]
—Bill Bagot, age 35
Everyone has a different perspective of what this movie is about when coming out of the theatre. Even though I am a christian I am not one to dig into every movie looking for a moral center that I can learn from. I go for the entertainment and for my sheer love of film. I did, however find a moral center in “Memento”. In my humble opinion, the movies lesson was on revenge, and how it will never satisfy you. I don’t want to give anything away, so I will say no more about that. Taking what I, and what the reviewer wrote with a grain of salt, you should GO SEE THIS MOVIE! It is one of those exciting, edge of your seat movies in which you cannot take your eyes off the screen for a second, because if you do, you’ll be lost, and have no idea of what is going one. it’s constructed so brilliantly, and it’s so complex, that no outside studio wanted to market this 4½ million dollar film. Right now, if you are living in L.A. or New York, you can go see this movie. You won’t be disappointed.
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Brian Wanke, age 23
“Memento” tips its hat to old film-noir style movies without trashing them the way movies like “Wild Thing” or “What Lies Beneath” did. All the classic elements are there: grainy photography, a netherworld setting of cheap hotels, dark bars, and bungalows, and a mysterious woman who is either trying to help or to kill. it’s the new twist which the reviewer describes above that gives the film its edge. The memory defect makes for some unusual scenes: some gripping, some shocking, some funny. Standouts: a chase scene in which Lenny, in the midst of the chase, can’t remember if he is the hunter or the hunted; a barmaid plays a joke with a mug of beer which is one of the cruelest jokes I’ve ever seen played in a movie. The director doesn’t cave into an audience desire for an ending. But I wish he had. He has brought existential angst to new heights. This movie made me long for those elusive Antonioni endings that drove me crazy when I saw them years ago. But at least in movies like L’Avventura” and “Red Desert” there was something tangible to hold onto—some direction or purpose—unlike “Memento” which is just so much chaos and entropy.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 3]
Jim O'Neill, age 47