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Memento: Short-Term Noir

Filed under the:  department.
Posted by:Ryan on Wednesday, 02 May, 2001 @ 6:01 PM
Film / Movie

You remember that Seinfeld episode where Elaine and the guys go to India for
Elaine’s friend’s wedding?  Remember how it was told backwards by
scene?  Well then you have a good idea what to expect with the
new-wave noir Memento. Read on for Rob’s review… update: though i don’t see where (maybe i didnt look close enough) a comment below asked for a spoiler warning: thus, this is a spoler warning for the review. Read on… if you DARE!!! (mwuhahahahaHAHAHAHAHAH)

Short-Term Noir

by Rob Lund

19/20 stars


19 out of 20

You remember that Seinfeld episode where Elaine and the guys go to India for
Elaine’s friend’s wedding?  Remember how it was told backwards by
scene?  Well then you have a good idea what to expect with the
new-wave noir Memento.

What Seinfeld won’t prepare you for (not that there’s anything wrong with
that) is just how truly excellent this film is.  Not since The Matrix or The
Sixth Sense
have I been so blown away by the originality of a film’s story and technique,
with these two elements tightly intertwined.

Here, the technique is borderline hackneyed.  Leonard Shelby (Guy
Pearce, better here than he was in L.A. Confidential) has a strange
memory problem.  His condition is somewhat like Dana Carvey’s in Clean
, but again this is no comedy.  Leonard saw his wife murdered and was
himself attacked by the burglars.  Ever since, he can’t seem to make
new memories.  Not to be confused with amnesia, he remembers who he is and
who his wife was.  Her death is his only reason for living these

But that’s not where the catchy gimmick stops.  To put the viewer
squarely in the shoes of Leonard, writer/director Christopher Noland tells the
story backwards.  Like American Beauty, the first thing we find out
is that a lead character, Teddy ( Joe Pantoliano, of Matrix fame), bites
the bullet.  The entire opening credits is a slyly framed close-up of a
Polaroid developing in reverse.  Leonard is shaking the picture of the body
as it slowly disappears.  Even the URL of the film’s official Flash-heavy
website is backwards (www.otnemem.com).

Where Memento really excels is its methodical unwinding of who these
characters were before the conclusion (introduction?).  Natalie (Carrie-Ann
Moss, also hot off her Matrix fame) and Teddy teeter on friend or foe,
depending on how you interpret Leonard’s surroundings.

This ensemble cast fill the bill for a classic noir tale — seedy characters,
a revenge story, a wronged
man searching for justice, etc.  It’s Nolan’s method that makes this film
so fresh and intriguing.  In revealing to the audience in layered glimpses
the stages of Leonard’s mission, we have an idea what perpetual short term
memory is like.

Or is it more than that?  Perhaps Noland is commenting on the
subjectivity of memories.  It’s no coincidence that a name or phone number
might elude us.  As Leonard observes of his condition, houses can change
color and cars can change model as recalled from memory.  For the same
reason, says Leonard, police don’t rely on line-ups for convictions. 
Facts, on the other hand, are Leonard’s saving grace. 

As if he were coaching himself through his illness, Leonard writes to himself
the second person, scrawling notes on photographs.  For instance, he takes
a picture of his hotel to remind himself where he’s staying the next time he
forgets where home is (”You have to have a system, otherwise you won’t make
it.”).  On every appendage are tattooed the more permanent notes that
he can’t afford to lose.  One arm tells him the basics of his fugitive:

Fact 1: Male
Fact 2: White
Fact 2: First Name: John or James
Fact 4: Last name: G__

Probably the most fascinating aspect of the film is that if not for the fragmentation
of the story tempered by Leonard’s point of view, Memento wouldn’t work
as a crime thriller.  It’s precisely the ambiguity that makes it a
masterpiece.  Amazingly, there is a great amount of tension, suspense, and
intrigue in its reversed story arch.  Despite knowing the end initially,
the final act (beginning?) is all the more satisfying.  As Kramer often
said, “you just blew my mind!”

Now, where was I?  I forget what we were talking about.  Oh, yes, Memento
It’s like that episode of Seinfeld where they go to India…

7 Responses to “Memento: Short-Term Noir”

  1. Anonymous Says:


    Hey man :)

    Next time can you put a note in the subject heading or blurb that says **Warning: Spoiler and/or plot discussed**

    Thanks :)

  2. Nutcase Says:

    In Response To Anonymous @ 05/02/2001 7:06:48 PM

    Re: Spoilers

    do you mean teddy dying? Yeah, i guess thats a bit spoiler-ish… but seriously, if it’s truly the first thing we see, it’s not like it will ruin the movie. :P

    I haven’t seen it (yet) - but plan on seeing it friday. :)

  3. Scar Says:

    good movie

    A friend of mine “found” a VCD of this and we watched it the other night. A *very* good film. I highly recommend it.

  4. Anonymous Says:


    Please, the method of story telling is NOT a gimmick. No one in there right mind would call e.e. cummings’s odd style a “gimmick.” It’s just the mode of storytelling. sheesh…

    Excellent movie though, quite a gem.


  5. Ruprect Says:

    In Response To Anonymous @ 05/03/2001 7:51:03 PM

    Re: ugh…

    Perhaps “gimmick” was the wrong word, given its modern connotations. But for argument’s sake, Merriam-Webster defines gimmick as:

    “an important feature that is not immediately apparent : CATCH b : an ingenious and usually new scheme or angle”

    That’s precisely what the method of storytelling in Memento was. I wasn’t intending to sound negative about it either.

    [Edited at 18:46 Jun 12 2001 by Ruprect]

  6. nir Says:


    in the final scene when he drives the car and a flashback of him in bed with the wife - you can see a tatoo which was REMOVED saying: “I’ve Done It”. He had raped her but not murdered her.

  7. Lee Jung Says:

    If you’re going through hell, keep going.Everybody is a star with the potentiality to shine in the infinite sky of eternity.

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