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MEMENTO
Limited Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano
Director:  Christopher Nolan
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  See Review
Length:  113 Minutes
Release Date:  May 21, 2002

“Now…where was I?”

Film ****

I can’t think of any other film apart from Memento where style and narrative are so irascibly married.  In many great films, style enhances or edifies substance, but for this movie, there is no dividing line.  The film starts with its climax and staggers its way backwards piece by piece for one purpose and one purpose only:  to keep us in the mind frame of the protagonist.  He has no short term memory; as each scene starts, he doesn’t know where he is or how he got there.  And neither do we.  It’s a series of tiny puzzles that character and audience have to solve together. 

That character is Leonard Shelby (Pearce).  Once upon a time, Leonard was assaulted in his home in an incident that left his wife dead and him with a rare kind of brain damage:  he can no longer make new memories.  People he meets, conversations he engages in, places he’s been and things he’s done…they just fade into nothingness after a few moments.

He’s determined to find the man who killed his wife.  In his condition, it won’t be easy.  He tries to bring organization to his chaos:  he takes pictures of the things he’s supposed to remember and the people in his life, and he scratches notes on the photos to help him keep track of them.  Even more bizarre are the tattoos covering his entire body:  facts of the case, clues to keep in mind.  He is able to maintain his hazy focus by an occasional glance at himself in the mirror.

There are two important characters interacting with him during the story.  Teddy (Pantoliano) cannot be trusted…at least, that’s what Leonard’s notes remind him.  Natalie (Moss) may be a sympathetic ally.  Given the backwards structure of the film, we see how their relationships conclude with Leonard…but is how they begin actually more significant?

It’s easy to like Leonard.  There’s probably never been a character less equipped to solve a mystery than him with his short term memory loss, but his determination to succeed despite his handicap is winning.  It’s even easier to sympathize with him…if you’ve ever gotten tired of seeing movies where the characters know less than you do, Memento is a brilliant change of pace. 

As each scene begins, we are as much of a blank slate as Leonard, but like a finely crafted jigsaw puzzle, each piece slides nicely into the next.  In other words, don’t think this movie is a constant state of haze…far from it.  Like Leonard’s Polaroid pictures, what starts out blank soon becomes filled with information.  As each new piece clicks into place, it leads you further and further back into the story.  And don’t think for a minute you were cheated by seeing the ending of the story first…you ain’t seen nothing yet.  The structure is nothing short of spellbinding.  It will hook you from the opening frames and keep you riveted until the end.  Once you reach the end, there is only one place you’ll want to go…back to frame one for a repeat viewing.

Christopher Nolan’s Oscar nominated script is nothing short of genius, taking a standard genre like film noir and pulling it apart, only to re-assemble it into something that resembles noir, but plays like nothing you’ve ever seen before.  His sense of direction is impeccable, as timing and rhythm are crucial to the flow of the story.  This complex form flows smoothly under his guidance; you never feel you’re at the mercy of a driver who doesn’t have both hands on the wheel.

His cast deserves special mention, too.  Guy Pearce offers a flawless performance in a challenging role.  “You feel sad, you don’t know why, you feel angry, you don’t know why…” Leonard laments at one point.  It’s a confusing jumble to have to keep channeled, but Pearce doesn’t shy away.  Carrie Anne-Moss and Joe Pantoliano turn in two memorable supporting roles, creating characters that are both real yet enigmatic at the same time…without that mix, we couldn’t proceed looking at the story through Leonard’s eyes.

Memento was by far the best film of last year, and one of the most original movies of all time.  You definitely won’t forget it any time soon.

Video ****

Columbia Tri Star rarely disappoints in this department, and Memento is no exception.  This anamorphic transfer is superb from beginning to end, and remains one of the best I’ve seen in the last couple of years.  In a film filled with visual detail where any clue can be important, you can’t ask for much better than this presentation.  Colors palates are deliberately assembled for every scene, and many shots contain similar shades that are still distinctly different.  This DVD gives you every subtlety Christopher Nolan has to offer.  Images are sharp and cleanly rendered throughout, whether light or dark…there is no grain or compression to mar the experience, and no softness, blurred lines or lack of clarity to spoil the pleasure of watching.  This is even a movie that gives you the best of both worlds:  perfect color renderings and perfect black and white ones, too.  Highest marks!

Audio ****

The sound is crucial in a psychological thriller, and with this DVD offering, you can choose Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1 tracks; both will give your experience just the kick it needs.  Dialogue is clearly rendered throughout, from shouts to whispers, so the story can progress with no technical interference.  Sound effects are often striking and surprising…like memories, they come in out of the blue and jolt from time to time.  The front and rear stage interplay makes best possible use for these sequences, adding a bit of texture to disorienting  moments.  Watch out for the .1 channel and the sudden moments of explosive dynamic range that punctuate certain scenes…and enjoy!

Features ****

This double disc set is a fine offering from Columbia Tri Star, but will fans find Christopher Nolan’s eccentric ideas for menu screens a hindrance?  Put it this way…you will have to do a little work on Disc Two to navigate your way around.

Disc One is easy enough.  Look at the list of words for the important ones, and you can find where you want to go:  i.e., click “watch” to start the movie.  Included on the first disc is Christopher Nolan’s commentary track (which starts stylishly enough BACKWARDS for a few seconds)…it’s a good listen for a second trip through the movie, as he talks about the structure, his ideas, and helps you find your way as the story progresses in reverse.

Disc Two contains many features, but you will have to find them.  The disc is presented like a series of psychological tests.  To start, move the cursor around the picture images shown to you on the main screen.  Some do nothing.  Some take you into the tests.  Each one of these can lead you to a feature, and there is a pattern to follow to find them:  most of the questions are psych profile type questions; that is, they have no right or wrong answer.  One question in each series, however, WILL have a right or wrong answer (these questions are signified also by an audio clip from the movie).  Pick the right answer, get to one of the features.

There is a menu screen that can be found this way:  select the alarm clock from the first screen and begin answering the questions.  When you get to the question that asks if the best jigsaw puzzles are the ones missing a couple of pieces, choose E.  This is not a complete menu screen, but it will take you instantly to some of the main features.

These features include the Anatomy of a Scene Sundance Channel special, which is also a good supplement AFTER you’ve seen the movie.  It includes interviews with Nolan and crew members, but sadly, only one actor, Joe Pantoliano.  There is also a version of the movie with a shooting script as an alternate angle…you can go back and forth between the full length film and Nolan’s script, which is sometimes hard to read and a bit messy, but cool nonetheless.  There is his brother Jonathan Nolan’s original short story that inspired the film, a pair of trailers, a series of production photos, pages from Leonard Shelby’s journal as a mental patient, poster concepts, international promotional materials…and in fact, there may be a lot more waiting to be found for the patient.

The original release of Memento included an interview with Christopher Nolan, a look at Leonard’s tattoos, some newspaper clippings that led to extra clues, talent files, and a TV spot.  Are they included here as well, only hidden?  Could be…

Oh, and lest I forget, the new cover is quite cool…designed to resemble Leonard’s medical file!  It includes notes and reports…and where the discs are stored, a big post it note attached with “watch this” written.  Smartly done.

Summary:

I’ve seen this movie more than a dozen times already…no, it’s not that I have short term memory loss.  It’s simply that Memento is the rare breed of film that strikes you as brilliant the first time you see it, but even more so with each repeated viewing.  This is a smart, daring and strikingly original piece that moviegoers won’t see the likes of again any time soon.  Whether or not you’ve seen it before, now is the perfect time to add this must-own film to your collection…grab this limited edition disc with both hands.  Write yourself a note to remind yourself if you must.