Christopher Nolan took the film world by storm with his second feature Memento. Nolan built a better mousetrap of a neo-noir, using the tricky gimmick of a complex, purposefully disorienting narrative. Actually, the word "gimmick" hardly seems fair, as the medium is the message in Memento, its construction putting us in the scrambled mind of its protagonist.
Based on the short story "Memento Mori" (by the director's brother Jonah Nolan), Memento is like a thriller penned by neurologist Oliver Sacks. As we swiftly learn in the film's opening scenes, anti-hero Leonard Shelby (a scarily unhinged, scarily lean Guy Pearce) has anterograde memory loss, meaning he can't create new memories. Reborn this way after the trauma of his wife's rape and murder, Leonard has dedicated his compromised existence to finding and executing his wife's victimizer. Beginning at the story's end, Nolan shows us Leonard accomplishing his goal, or believing he has. Gradually, the film's structure reveals itself to be constructed of two timelines moving to intersect, one a reverse succession of Leonard's short-term experiences (spans of mere minutes before his memory wipes like an Etch-a-Sketch) and another a forward-moving sequence of black-and-white flashback scenes that provide additional pieces of the puzzle.
That Christopher Nolan's screenplay largely—and deliberately—unfolds in scenes of reverse order gives us a taste of Leonard's frustrating existence: we're thrown out of time and robbed of the comfort of a (chrono)logical unspooling of information. Leonard has learned humbly to respect the unreliability of memory and to preach that gospel to others ("Memories can be distorted. They're just an interpretation; they're not a record. And they're irrelevant if you have the facts"). But there's a broader point here that, as Nolan has put it, "We are at the mercy of our perceptions." Perception isn't quite reality, which makes Memento an unsettling study in subjectivity: taking the allegory to its logical thematic conclusion, we must confess that we are all clouded by our stubborn filters on existence and our lack of complete knowledge of our existences. With such deep uncertainty to existence, it's a wonder we're not all paralyzed, and considering the potential recklessness of any action, Leonard makes a puzzling role model: he's either the boldest of heroes or the most dangerous of self-deluded maniacs.
Leonard answers his existential confusion the same way many of us do: "I'm disciplined and organized. I use habit and routine to make my life possible." "Conditioning," he adds. "I live my life by instinct." Somewhere in his head, Leonard seems to have an instinctive trust of Teddy (Joe Pantoliano), a shifty, possibly untrustworthy friend who keeps popping up in Leonard's day as insistently as a Whack-a-Mole target. Pantoliano is perfectly cast as this Hammett-esque character with a weaselly demeanor, and the noir shadings extend to potential femme fatale Natalie (Carrie Anne-Moss), who pulls Leonard into her own set of troubles. With memories that default to his wife's death, Leonard confesses that he's living "only for revenge," the one thing that can give him satisfaction. "How am I supposed to heal," he asks, "if I can't feel time?"
Though the story is pitch-black in its implications, Nolan also makes room for observational humor (Leonard incorrectly pushes his motel lobby door, every time). Nolan's breakthrough work lives up to his personal standard of thoughtfulness within a commercially viable framework; it's also a visually stylish piece of work (Memento is his first collaboration with regular cinematographer Wally Pfister), opening on the tell-tale image of an exposed Polaroid being shaken into blankness. As they used to say back in the 19th Century—though, appropriately enough, no one knows who said it first—"What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know, it's what we know for sure that just ain't so."
Memento gets a fine 10th Anniversary Special Edition on Blu-ray from Lionsgate. The new edition features a brand-new, startlingly sharp hi-def transfer that handily bests the earlier Sony Blu-ray release and decimates the DVD transfers. There's an intentionally stark contrast to the black-and-white sequences, but the beautifully saturated color sequences are perfectly balanced to dazzle with detail and texture. The audio upgrade isn't quite so dramatic, since the previous disc had an uncompressed LPCM mix, but the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix here is crystal clear and highly effective at carrying over the filmmaker's intent in terms of effects and overall aural mood.
It's a joy to find audio commentary with director Christopher Nolan included; though his headiness is not to all tastes, fans will hang on his every word.
The brand-new “Remembering Memento” (7:44, HD) is an interview with Nolan.
“Anatomy of a Scene” (25:15, SD) is an excellent installment of the Sundance Channel series, including illustrative film clips and interviews with Nolan, editor Dody Dorn, composer David Julyan, producer Jennifer Todd, Joe Pantoliano, production designer Patty Podesta, and cinematographer Wally Pfister.
“IFC Interview with Writer/Director Christopher Nolan” (23:50, SD) is an episode of Independent Focus with Elvis Mitchell, recording his Q&A with Nolan (with a few audience questions for good measure).
Also included as HD screens are the “’Memento Mori’ Short Story,” “Tattoo Sketches” and “Leonard’s Journal.”
These are all the principal features found on previous editions, and I'm not aware of any easter eggs yielding the rest, such as the Director's Shooting Script and chronological viewing option found on the Limited Edition DVD (which also had entertaining packaging and menu design). Still, this is easily the best treatment the film has gotten on home video, with A/V quality to die for.
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer