Study Guide

Memento

Memento Introduction


Release Year: 2000

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Director: Christopher Nolan

Writer: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan (short story)

Stars: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss


Gird your loins for some massive, brain-tickling confusion: Memento. 

To give you a little teaser (and to tease you), we've written this next paragraph in the same way that Memento plays out: bass-ackwards.

Each scene happens in reverse chronological order, so we start at the end and end at the beginning. Not like rewinding reverse. Oh, and there's another catch; most of the movie is told in reverse. He leaves himself pictures and tattoos so he can keep track of his friends, foes, and all the evidence he has as he goes on his manhunt. It's about a man looking for his wife's killer, but the catch is that he can't form any new memories since he was injured during her attack. Memento is one crazy movie.

Are you weeping? 

Well, the good news is that Memento is a little easier to follow than that.

Actually, no, it's not.

Let's backtrack a bit to 2000 when Memento first came out. It was produced by Summit Entertainment and directed by Christopher Nolan, the king of contemporary blockbusters. It was super well received by critics and consumers alike, and, while it wasn't Nolan's first movie, it was the one that really put him on course toward directorial stardom.

Memento stars Guy Pearce as its amnesiac protagonist. Alongside Pearce, The Matrix duo Carrie-Ann Moss and Joe Pantoliano play supporting roles as Natalie and Teddy. They may not be living in an alternate, computer simulated reality, but that doesn't mean Memento is any less of a trip.

In fact, it's precisely the terrifying reality of this film that's what's so mind-warpingly insane.

If you want to know more about this mind-bending, time-bending and genre-bending movie, you'll want to dive all the way in. This nutshell, like Leonard's case, is only just beginning to crack.

What is Memento About and Why Should I Care?

And the third and final reason you should… no, we're done messing with you. There are so many reasons to study Memento that we're going to forgo another riddled paragraph and cut straight to the chase while keeping our chronology intact.

First of all: science. Neurologists have actually commented on the accuracy of Memento's depiction of anterograde amnesia. We're not suggesting you watch it before taking you're next psychology exam, but when smart people talk up the factuality of a major Hollywood movie, you know it's going to be intense. Truth, as they say, is stranger than fiction. And Memento joins the ranks of such films as Interstellar and The Martian in showing just how strange (and entertaining) truth can be.

But Memento is more than a movie adapted from a chapter in a science textbook; it's also a work of art. The narrative structure of the film is unlike anything that's been done before… or done since. It's in a league of its own. There have been some creative storylines like the Wachowski's take on Cloud Atlas, but nothing quite like the reverse-chronology interspersed with flashbacks that Memento offers. It's maddening, it's intense, it's highly-watchable… and it works. This is narrative innovation at its finest.

But what use is clever story telling if we ignore the story itself—the meat (or protein substitute) of our analysis sandwich? Memento delves deep. It's as thematically packed as a Spike Lee flick, as bloody as any of Tarantino's finest, and as psychologically taut as anything that Park Chan-wook can dish out. Memento is a movie that's concerned with identity and memory and consciousness and time. It's also about a man who's hell-bent on revenge at any bloody cost… and ponders the nature of revenge, truth, and goodness even as he shoots people at point-blank range.

So whether you're in the mood for a psychological thriller, a meditation on philosophical themes, a bafflingly reinvention of narrative structure, or just want to brush up on weird medical conditions, Memento's for you. Take a Polaroid (or screenshot) of this page and write a note on it: you're going to want to remember not to forget about Memento.

Trivia

Leonard himself tells us that memory is unreliable and Nolan made sure to keep that evident in the details of the film. Scroll down to the video if you just want the Easter egg, but this site also offers some explanation as well.
(Source)

Speaking of misremembering things, Teddy's license plate switches between SG13 7IU and SG13 71U. When Leonard writes down the number it's hard to tell whether he uses an "I" or a "1," but the tattoo definitely has a "1'"(even though Leonard says "I" when reading it). When Natalie gives him Teddy's registration, it's an "I." As for the car itself, click and see.
(Source)

Jimmy Grantz sort of shares a name from a patient in Oliver Sacks' book, The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat. In the second chapter, "The Lost Mariner," Sacks describes a man with anterograde amnesia named Jimmie G. Scroll down to that chapter and read all about Jimmie for yourself.
(Source)

While the initial sequence of the film is shown in reverse, all of the sounds (except for Teddy's "No!" are played forward. Nolan wanted a very physical, real feeling scene for us to identify with, and since we never hear sounds happening backward, Teddy screaming "On!" would make it harder to immerse viewers in the scene.
(Source)

Memento Resources

Book or TV Adaptations

Leonard Meets Earl
Memento wasn't exactly based on Christopher's brother Jonathan Nolan's short story, "Memento Mori", but the two were conceived together, like brothers from another mother (or father, in this case). You can actually read the whole short story online.

The Brothers of Momento
Want more double Nolan action? Check out this write-up that extensively covers the craft of Jonathan and Christopher's invention. It's got all the parallels and the varying interpretations, and you don't even need to read the book (which you should do regardless in our opinion).

Articles and Interviews

Fabulous Fabula and Monumental Memory
Have you ever finished watching Memento and thought, "This is much too plain and easy to understand; I must find a way to obfuscate it beyond its simple-minded chronology." No? Well, why not check out this article anyway. It may delve into Memento's sequencing in so much depth that it's even more confusing than the movie; but read carefully enough and you might learn something.

Philosophers On Film
In lieu of actually reading the Memento edition of Philosophers on Film, here's a book review that covers each of the articles. Heads up, it's really interesting and you may end up actually buying the book. You have been warned.

Black and White and Noir All Over
Check out this article that delves even deeper into the shadows to solve the mystery of the noir in Memento.

Mise-en-Commentary
We can't link you to Nolan's actually commentary (which you can get on special DVD releases of the film). But what's the next best thing? A commentary on Nolan's commentary on Memento.

Video

Leommy or Samard?
Having trouble finding that scene where Sammy turns into Leonard in the care home that we were talking about? Well look no further than right here.

Anatomy of Memento (or, What's Under All Those Tattoos?)
A great video with interviews from everyone: director, producer, cinematographer, actor, and editor. It's twenty-four minutes packed with some razor-sharp insight, so give it a watch.

Professor Nolan
An informal interview with Nolan himself—he describes his structure and, more interestingly, the reason behind it all. He also uses a chalkboard, so it's pretty legit.

Images

Leonard Rae Jepsen
This is crazy.

Memento is like a banana?
Okay, we admit that this may not be the snazziest, most exciting infographic on the interwebs, but is sure can be helpful when you're lost amongst the strangeness of Memento's timeline.