BY DIANE LONG
Imagine awaking every day in a random hotel room with no knowledge of where you are or why you are there. You know your identity and can remember most of your past. Your last memory involves the brutal rape and murder of your wife, but you have no idea how long ago it took place, nor what has occurred in the interim. Each morning is the first morning that you must endure the penetratingly fresh pain of your wife’s absence. In your mind, no time has past since her death, making the healing process impossible.
This is the ingenious premise of “Memento,” quite possibly the most fascinating movie I have ever seen-and that is not the intoxicants talking.
Guy Pearce plays the lead character, Leonard, who suffered severe head trauma while trying to defend his wife against an intruder in their home. The attack left him with a peculiar mental “condition,” as he delicately refers to it. He has no short-term memory. He forgets in a matter of minutes everything he learns and anyone he meets. He has therefore devised several methods of remembering essential facts. He photographs his acquaintances and writes their names and information on the photographs. Additionally, he tattoos reminders on his body.
For most, such a condition would remove any will to live. There seems little reason to spend the majority of each day reorienting oneself merely to survive until the next day when the process will begin anew. Leonard, on the other hand, has a strong motive to persevere: revenge. He has dedicated his life to tracking and killing the man who murdered his wife. He is not concerned with the difficulty of this task, nor the fleeting nature of any satisfaction he will gain from its execution.
As if such a plot is itself not sufficiently spellbinding, director Chris Nolan employs an innovative narrative technique. The majority of the film occurs within the head of Leonard. Moreover, these thoughts lay out the storyline in reverse chronological order, although this is not readily apparent. The first scene involves Leonard’s most recent act. From there, the action regresses to the “beginning” of Leonard’s story. Initially, the movie seems to be utter chaos. Along the way, however, various clues are revealed that point to the underlying causes of the action.
This film is extremely complex. In the interest of aiding the more feeble-minded among us, I have assembled a convenient “quick reference” guide to viewing Memento.
First, do not try to guess the ending because you will fail.
Second, when you disregard my advice and venture a guess because you go to Hahvard, prepare to feel like an incompetent ass at the end of the movie.
Third, do not leave the theater for any reason during the film. Go to the bathroom, buy your exorbitantly overpriced snacks and make out with your underage girlfriend before the movie begins.
Fourth, once you take your seat, do not attempt to relax, because the film will not allow you to do so. In fact, do not blink, cough, speak, masturbate or engage in any of your other usual theater behaviors. Concentrate, Daniel-Son, this is not one of your animated Disney videos, (or what you want your houseguests to believe are Disney videos).
Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, I implore you to go to the theater sober. The film is extremely challenging to follow when you indulge in controlled substances. You will only become paranoid and end up screaming obscenities at some elderly woman in the next row who you mistakenly believe is staring at you. Furthermore, if it is inebriation you are interested in, Memento will skew your perception of reality more than a three-day ether binge in the Mojave Desert – I think. I will let you know for certain after this weekend.
Simply follow these five easy steps and you will truly appreciate the breathtaking performances of Matrix co-stars Joe Pantoliano and Carrie-Anne Moss. You will marvel at the new Brad Pittesque image that Guy Pearce has adopted. You will laugh. You will cry. In short, you will be in for one of the most enthralling viewing experiences of your pathetic, inconsequential and hopelessly self-centered life.