Thursday, October 15, 2009
Thrills and Chills: 'Memento' (2001)
It is interesting how 'Memento' plays extensively off of irony: How could a film trailing a forgetful protagonist pose as such an unforgettable venture for the audience? Only Christopher Nolan, even before his Caped Crusader extravaganzas, had the potential to attain this filmmaking feat.
'Memento' threads multiple plotlines into one coherent, yet insufferably conglomerated, case of troubled amnesia for Leonard Shelby (aptly played by Guy Pearce) who tirelessly hounds the men responsible for the death of his wife. Throughout his misadventures, Shelby recollects miscellaneous plot checkpoints by gradually stumbling upon self-inflicted clues or sifting through photographs with scrawled notes resembling scattered bread crumbs in a forest of potential leads. He chooses to reside in a beat-down hotel, which serves uncannily as a reflection of the character's unstable state of mind. The supporting characters utilize him, tempt him, anger him, and play sadistically off of his "condition" and radical emotions. By the film's conclusion, perceptions of these characters will fluctuate tempestuously as the tangled plot tree branches out to its twigs.
Nolan pulls off what countless other filmmakers like to pull off in movies such as these: some extent of perceptive and emotional manipulation---and he does it effectively. Nolan plays off of your pity with Carrie-Anne Moss's character---at first one will extend sympathies to her helpless predicament, but (without spoiling much, hopefully) after another revealing encounter with her, the observant mind will come away with respite for her malicious attitudes. In some way, Nolan tinkers with notions of prejudice and inferential supposition. One moment, a portrayal will be relative and low-key; while at the next, it would become erratic and suddenly psychotic. What is also crucial to this film's tone concerns the sequence of events by which Nolan chose to organize his plot. Interestingly, it thematically reflects the mental instability of Pearce's character as he stutters and retracts his perceptions, flashing inconsistently---yet ironically purposeful---through numerous chunks of his retrospective memory. That alteration of perception insidiously keeps the audience on its toes.
While 'Memento' is not the most chilling, it can be the most thrilling...and its definitely unforgettable.