Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Memento (2000) Film Review

Fig 1: 'Memento' (2000) poster
The film 'Memento' (2000) is a complicated narrative that has no steady point in time and constantly flicks backwards in time, with each new scene ending on an identical series of events to the start of the last. This narrative style can be extremely confusing for any audience that falls behind the story's progression but 'Memento' use this style in a rhythmic and entrancing way that keeps the audiences viewing experience fresh and interesting until the final twist.

"Occasionally the film trips over its own complexity, but it's tense, devious and evokes Leonard's disorientation quite brilliantly." (Film4 2000)

The film's complex narration works both as a unique method for portraying and telling the story while also acting as a representative element of a Leonard's constant confusion and absolute disorientation to the world around him. This works very much to 'Memento's advantage as the story backtracks to its beginning, the many overlapping scenes throughout reveal an increasingly twisted plot and eventually shows Leonard's conscious decision to fool himself. This final, or initial, twist uses the main plot device, Leonard's inability to make memories, to completely change the audiences perception and interpretation of established events and the even the plot itself, with us thinking that "Teddy" is John G, Leonard's target, for almost all of the feature.

Fig 2: Death of "Teddy" from 'Memento' (2000)
"Memento is one of those jigsaw puzzles whose pieces snap together more tightly with each viewing. Fueling it all is a performance by Guy Pearce that's as indelible as the tattoo ink covering his body. He's a mural of vengeance." (Nashawaty 2011)

The complex characterisation of Leonard, the film's protagonist, is both confusing and morally questionable. The character's motives are completely clear from the very beginning, with the subsequent death of "Teddy" in the first scene. His desire for revenge is the very basis for this character as he follows this drive on the hunt for his wife's supposed 'killer'. A fact which itself turns out to be false, with Leonard's subconscious lying to him and concealing the truth of his situation and past within a story he tells again and again. These defining features of Leonard's character for the duration of the film can be seen as ironic, as he makes a point of telling others how memories can be twisted and unreliable but he, himself places complete faith in his own memories. The story he constantly tells, the story of Sammy Jankis, is his own mind taking a third person perspective on the events proceeding his wife's rape and supposed murder and the way in which this story lingers around Leonard shows an unconscious attachment to the events and his guilt surrounding it proves to be an unconscious acknowledgement of his involvement in his wife's overdose.

Fig 3: Sammy Jankis from 'Memento' (2000)
"More than an enigmatic, jittery, occasionally funny treatise on vengeance's fruitlessness, "Memento" never abandons an emotional quandary: How can a man unable to feel time expect to heal? Leonard loses himself, as we all do, in habit and repetition." (Rogers 2010)

It becomes painfully obvious by the very end of the feature that Leonard is lost within his own concept of time and the world around him. He judges the inconsistencies and uncertainties of reality, criticsing the people around him and their dependency on what he himself has lost. This proves to be true until quite a way into the film, when the audience begins to see the twisted plot unravel in front of them; with Leonard's manipulation by Natalie, a drug dealer's girlfriend, and then his own manipulation of his memories. He exploits his own memories by essentially using his only routine and loop hole, his trust in himself; he intentionally manipulates himself to please a now instinctual feeling of revenge. This is revealed nowhere better than when "Teddy" confronts Leonard with the truth his reality and his eternal and routine hunt for the ever elusive "John G".

List of Illustrations

Fig 1: 'Memento' (2000) poster [Poster] At: http://www.impawards.com/2001/memento.html

Fig 2: Death of "Teddy" from 'Memento' (2000) Directed by Christopher Nolan. [Film Still] America: Newmarket Films and Team Todd. At: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-MnxorwrCLJU/UZtL3NZ8d4I/AAAAAAAAAmE/X0989iE4ko0/s1600/memento+still+5.jpg

Fig 3: Sammy Jankis from 'Memento' (2000) Directed by Christopher Nolan. [Film Still] America: Newmarket Films and Team Todd. At: http://taylorholmes.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/memento09.jpg


Film4 (2000) At: http://www.film4.com/reviews/2000/memento [Online Review] (Accessed: 11/03/2014)

Nashawaty, Chris (2011) At: http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20466686,00.html [Online Review] (Accessed: 11/03/2014)

Rogers, Nick (2010) At: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/memento/ [Online Review] (Accessed: 11/03/2014)


  1. Great review Kyle - well done! :)
    Just a little spelling mistake I think... you say 'the events proceeding his wife's rape' - did you mean the events before the rape and murder? In which case it should be 'preceding' :)

    1. Cheers Jackie :D
      In that extract I was referring to after the rape, so would it be 'following' instead of 'proceeding'?