As both a neo-noir film and psychological thriller, Memento is nothing less than a mind-blower.
The story involves two interwoven plotlines: one chronological storyline in black-and-white and one in color telling the story in reverse, as experienced by the protagonist Leonard Shelby (played by Guy Pearce), who has anterograde amnesia (meaning he can’t hold onto recent memories).
So the movie starts with the photo of a dead man, goes backwards to show him being shot, then switches gears and goes forward from a point well before the killing when Leonard tattoos himself, takes photos, and writes notes in an attempt to hang onto things he experienced five minutes before, but forgot.
Needless to say, the narrative has the highly disorienting effect that one would expect from suffering such a disorder. It’s also a very clever and skillfully exercised gimmick that only a great screenwriter could pull off well. To write in a genre as convoluted as noir and fiddle with the timeline so as to bring the audience into such a confused protagonist’s head requires a great deal of attention to detail and skill.
Pearce is splendid as the beleaguered Leonard Shelby. His face is a study in haunted determination.
Joe Pantoliano plays the rather annoying Teddy, who we know is dead from the get-go.
And, in a bid to add a weird love interest (I guess), Carrie Ann Moss plays Natalie, who’s initially pissed off at Leonard about something or other, then forgives him because of his memory problem.
Naturally, Leonard has no idea who he can trust, but Natalie and Teddy spend lots of time pointing fingers at each other and warning Leonard not to trust him/her.
Despite all the story’s fancy contortions, it all comes together at the end. Like a snake eating its own tail, the narrative circles back on itself and the end becomes the beginning. Or vice versa. Either way, as Leonard drives off at the end in a stolen borrowed car, the movie seems to peter off rather than conclude in a clear, definitive way.
I, for one, felt as dazed as Leonard might have been. The ending left me feeling like, “Okay, what just happened?” Which may well be the point.
If the purpose of this movie is to tell a neo-noir, psychological thriller that disorients the viewer by replicating the experience of a disabled individual, I’d say it surely merits two thumbs up!