• James Rutherford

'Memento': An Innovative Psychological Thriller Told Brilliantly in Reverse-Chronological Order


Movie poster for the film Memento starring Guy Pearce, Joe Pantoliano and Carrie-Ann Moss

“Memento” (2000) is a wildly innovative psychological thriller staring Guy Pearce as Leonard Shelby, an insurance investigator mourning his wife's murder while suffering from Anterograde Amnesia—an affliction that leaves him unable to form short-term memories or track his own activities for more than 5 minutes at a time.


Tormented by his his wife’s death and obsessed with finding her killer, Leonard is seen in the film’s opening moments exacting brutal retribution on the undercover cop, Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) that he suspects of her murder. From that moment on, the storyline progresses in reverse chronology, showing the viewer each scene that precedes what has just occurred, mimicking Leonard’s memory loss as we share in his complete inability to comprehend his moment-to-moment circumstances.


Forced to employ polaroid snapshots and self-administered tattoos across his entire body as notes and reminders to himself, Leonard painstakingly strives to piece together the mystery surrounding his wife’s demise, even as his clues to himself become increasingly erratic. The storyline carefully alternates between its reverse progression and a forward-moving subplot (shot in black-and-white) that features Leonard holed up in a hotel room, carrying on a lengthy phone conversation that ties mysteriously to the film’s plot.


An early effort from celebrated cinematic luminary Christopher Nolan ("The Dark Knight", "Dunkirk") and based on an original story by his brother Jonathan ("The Prestige", "Westworld"), “Memento” is a genuine treat—a entirely one-of-a-kind experience highlighted by the Nolan Brothers’ masterful command of the medium as well as Pearce’s thoroughly convincing portrayal of a man lost in time and disembodied from reality. It’s a remarkable puzzle of a cinematic invention that not only demands close attention, but undoubtedly necessitates repeat viewing for the sheer marvel of its ingenious construction.

 

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