07 January 2007

Memento

Wow. Finally, 6 or 7 years late I've just seen this film; Film4 became free late last year, I got digital TV just before Christmas and yet the screening of Memento last night was the first time I sat and watched a film on the channel: everything else shown in that timescale has either been something I've seen, something I've no interest in or on at inaccessible times.

The plot for Memento was once that always vaguely intrigued me, but never enough to get me to go out and rent the thing and I've never had the chance to see it on the small screen before. An amazing idea, fantastically executed, the film may move slowly at times but overall it is a masterwork and has immediately jumped onto my list of favourite films (perhaps a subject for another day). I must admit I'm not generally a huge fan of film or TV: there are relatively few things that really engage me enough for me to sit down and watch, and such media are most commonly employed as background noise - like music, but less interesting and less important to me. That said, I am not closed minded about it and there have always been strong, brave, different or simply outstanding works that penetrate this general disinterest. To put this into context, Memento is only the fifth film I have sat down to watch in the last few months - (the other four being LA Confidential, Secretary, Enemy of the State (for some reason; post-Christmas mental shutdown?) and Adaptation), and the number of TV shows I make a point of actually paying attention to is no higher.

I must add that part of the reason for wanting to watch it is down to rating Guy Pearce as an actor, and the rest is attributable to the fact it was genuinely different to the majority of film output. But none of this was enough to get me off my arse into a cinema in 2000 or off to a rental shop since (I've never had a membership; never been bothered for any film). In some ways I am glad: I'd managed to avoid overly spoiling on the film in the meantime and I came to it fresh - and with an extra 6 or 7 years of experience and a refreshed perspective on narrative, plot and what makes a good film compared to my 19 or 20 year old self. Gaming is a wonderful hobby that way; getting back into RPGs has rebooted my take on a number of arts, books, TV and film especially (even if I don't watch a lot of the latter two).

I loved the mechanisms used. Starting with the end was an interesting one, but one still open to a big twist by the time 2 hours had passed. I also found it interesting, even clever, that the very start was the only point where time rolled backwards; for the rest of the film the scenes in colour were in reverse chronological order but forward-running. First viewing may not have been enough to pick this up but I think there was only the one scene hidden in the backward-counting progression - and that would have been a conversation Natalie and Leonard had in Ferdy's, whatever convinced her to take him home. I liked how it was split into colour (counting backwards) and black and white (running forwards) and the two were interspersed until until it worked back to the point at which they met. The fact that Leonard had memory of his condition - or rather memory of dealing with someone who had had it - would be a stretch in life, but in film it is a necessary conceit: dramatic license and all that. It takes a while to get going as at first one does not know the rules the screenplay is following, but once the duality is established the flow is very good. There are enough things going on to hold the interest, and clues scattered in the early scenes that engage, make the viewer interested in how something happened or why a certain note was made - things like the smashed window of Leonard's car or the scribbled out note on the back of his photo of Natalie.

The twist in the tail is an interesting one indeed. Do we take Teddy's speech as truth, and take it at face value? I think so. At least, I think it makes it a better film if so. The counterpoint is that Leonard had very few photos and fewer notes.

But that is all conjecture: speculating about what happens before or after the period which the film covers is a sure way to lose the plot altogether: not just with Memento but with most films. Judging the work on what it does cover and contain is a better method and this film contained a lot - both the obvious and the less-so. Memento is one film that I now really want on DVD; stunningly good.

5 comments:

Garry G said...

I love Memento especially in the questions it asks about memory and identity. It's interesting to note that the supporting characters re-invent themselves just as much as Leonard does and it could be argued that what's true and what isn't is less important than what everybody wants to be true. I also like it that everybody thinks they're manipulating Leonard when he's actually manipulating them and himself.

Graham said...

Yup; I loved that aspect of the twist: superbly done, and I certainly didn't see it coming.

Leif said...

The most haunting thing about this movie is this: Leonard only has his "old" memories to rely on -- but they cannot actually be relied on. The same is true for the rest of us.

Graham said...

That is a very elegant, and salient, point.

hummster said...

I think this is one of my favourite films because of the fact it shows how unreliable memory is. Another you might enjoy is Christopher Nolans' first film Following as that explores similar themes of identity.