As a movie fan, as well as a critic in the last couple years for this wonderful website, I've seen a lot of great movies, and a shit ton of awful ones. Hell, I can't even remember most of the terrible ones. Even when it comes to a fantabulous director such as Christopher Nolan, I don't remember that much about Insomnia, beyond Pacino's tired, tired eyes. But I remember Memento, and that's not irony, for all those morons who would use that word here. It's just that great of a movie. The fact that it's been a little under 10 years since it's come out is amazing to me. It's also amazing that 10 years gets an anniversary disc, but Blu-ray needed this in its collection. Remember Sammy Jankis. Batman has a better memory than this, but we won't hold it against you, Leonard. Can I call you Lenny? Ahhh, you hate that name. Your wife called you that. Sorry that she died. What happened there? Just kidding. You already told me a thousand goddamned times. No, my name isn't tattooed on your body, but I know your condition.
Batman has a better memory than this. Wait. Did I just say that? Yes, and let me start off by saying I love Memento, both because it's a great film and because no one is going to fucking remake it 15 or five years from now. Yeah, Nolan has revamped the Dark Knight's story, but he's given it more oomph than anyone ever has. Fuck Tim Burton's one-dimensional ass. (Throw those tomatoes.) Wait, I forgot. This is about Memento. I must hurry and write this before I forget.
Guy Pearce is at his humorous and dramatic best here. Take that sentence at my word. He is a pretty good actor on all accounts, but is it wrong that I like him best as this clueless fart of a vengeance-ridden husband? He doesn't have to exude much, beyond immediate angst and then emptiness. It could be argued that anyone could step into Leonard's shoes and tell Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano that he doesn't recognize them, but I don't even want to think about it. Pearce is bone solid as Leonard, the man with the shortest memory span available. See, his wife (Jorja Fox) was murdered by some bandits, and they knocked him out in the process, causing him to lose his memory after just a few...
Memento could just be a movie about a brain-tainted guy who's after his wife's murderer, and it still might have been a great flick. After all, a resurgence of revenge movies have made a killing in the last few years. However, Nolan literally flipped the script and outdid Tarantino's time-splicing by reversing the important narrative completely, intersplicing it with present time, making it classy with black-and-white presentation. It's probably not a perfect movie in someone else's eyes, but I see only the flawless. Memory is a fascinating subject that no one manages to subject to scrutiny like this film does.
Leonard spends his B&W time in a hotel room, talking on the phone to a possible stranger who may or may not know what he's talking about. As the past appears to fill in the story between Leonard's phone conversation, we come to understand exactly what he has at stake. Even he doesn't know what's going on, so the audience is always a step ahead (behind) of Leonard, which is refreshing. I hate getting all the story at once. We hear him tell his story to several people, but are never certain about the details.
Teddy (Pantoliano) is constantly popping up to give Leonard a ride, but is he trustworthy? If you're paying attention, those were his glasses in the opening scene. But let's check the back of a Polaroid, where Leonard has written in some "honest" judgment. (Would this movie have worked as well with a digital camera? No.) He's sleeping at a hotel run by Mark Boone Jr. He has a bartender, Natalie (Moss), making him do things for her. Is anyone on his side? Perhaps, but there seems to be nothing wrong with taking advantage of a usable man. Remember Sammy Jankis.
Sammy Jankis (Stephen Tobolowsky) is Leonard's go-to memory, beyond those that he remembers about his wife. We only know that the accident messed his head up, and the memories of his wife before the accident are few and far between. He must care for her, though, somewhat strangely, if he hires prostitutes to simulate the night she died, only because he can remember those details. Sammy Jankis is a memory-sapped diabetic that appears from Leonard's past as an insurance adjuster, and becomes less of a memory/tattoo, and something of a mantra for Leonard.
Throughout this noirish set-up, the audience is allowed to guess all they want about what's occurring. I admit it would be naive to assume every step of this process is going to be a surprise for viewers, but not all of us are prophets. Whatever you figure out during the process is only a piece. Anyone who says they knew what was going on from the beginning is going to meet the end of my finger, and I'll call them a fucking liar. It's a twist that doesn't come until you don't think there's anything left to tell. And then the end is the beginning is the end is the beginning.
I hate to call this movie a classic so quick into the game, but I might as well. There is nothing real in Hollywood anymore. That's an overstatement, but fuck it. Regardless of what happens next, there is nothing like Memento out there, and probably never will be, as far as potential goes. Name-worthy directors are few and far between, and Nolan made his name here. The screenplay, written with help from brother Jonathan's short story and brother Jonathan, is virtually spotless. Here's the biggest spoiler: Guy Pearce is actually that good in this movie. Yes, this is a Blu-ray release, and yes, everything looks and sounds as good as they can. Wonderfully so. One loses focus, but there are definite improvements between the fast-action color scenes and the immediate drop to dual-tone. Similarly, the worldly sounds of the color scenes drop out completely for the intimate phone convo. I don't mention this as much for movies I don't like on Blu-ray, but I've watched this enough on DVD to recognize the differences.
Fortunately, the special-edition DVD psychology test graphics are missing, and the menu is straightforward. Unfortunately, we're missing the script and the forward-chronology features. The new feature here is "Remembering Memento," an eight-minute bit where Nolan spills the same business about why the movie resonates with his frame of mind. He loves it as much as I do.
The IFC "Anatomy of a Scene," featuring the awesome opening scene, as well as other Teddy-centric and almost spoilerific scenes, is a good look into the gist of the film from almost everyone involved, if you didn't catch it the first time. Also, the IFC mini-doc, "Independent Focus," where Elvis Mitchell interviews Chris Nolan on all things memory and filmmaking, is a really good interview. The Jonathan Nolan inspirational short story "Memento Mori" is here again, and is as good a read as it was 10 years ago, proving his narrative prowess is worth the J.J. Abrams CBS series pick-up. There are tattoo sketches from Leonard's body, which look painful even in a temporary state. And there are a few pages from Leonard's journal, less impactful this far into the movie's history.
Then there's the Nolan commentary, same as the first release, which still serves as the best Nolan commentary available. He goes into depth discussing scenes and motives, almost too much. But if we're not going to hear him talk at length about Batman or Dom Cobb, then we shall submit to his Leonard musings. I didn't check to see if the ending scenes were different as they were on the special-edition DVD. Sorry.
Buy this Blu-ray. There is another one out there, it's true. I didn't want to bring it up, but it was released at the brink of the high-def transitions. Fuck that disc. Get this one. You probably forgot you bought that other one anyway. It isn't high-priced, just high-valued. Also, keep the weird DVD.
Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.
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