The Austin Chronicle

SXSW Film Reviews

By Robert Faires, March 16, 2001, Screens


D: Christopher Nolan; with Guy Pearce, Carrie-Ann Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Mark Boone Jr., Stephen Tobolowsky, Jorja Fox, Harriet Harris. (35mm, 113 min.)

When you get another chance to see this novel, engrossing, continually surprising noir suspenser (and you will get another chance, count on it; Memento opens in Austin theatres on March 30), here are three things for you to remember: 1. Forget the hype. (While director Nolan's sophomore effort lives up to the buzz, the fewer expectations you have, the more you'll relish what's onscreen.) 2. Forget everything anyone has told you about the film. (The less you know going in, the greater the film's impact.) 3. Forget what it's like to remember. That's what the picture turns on: an inability to recall even the simplest things that happen to you -- where you went yesterday, who you met, what they told you -- and absorb that knowledge, learn from it, use it. Pearce's character Leonard can't do that -- a blow to the head wiped out his ability to form new memories -- and it's a deadly handicap as he attempts to track down the man who killed his wife. Nolan and his brother Jonathan (who wrote the short story on which the film is based) ingeniously employ a narrative structure that puts us inside Leonard's condition. The story unfolds backward, with each scene playing out without our knowing what occurred before, so we identify with Leonard's uncertainty, his confusion, the ease with which he can be fooled. That, along with a subplot about another man with no short-term memory (heartrendingly performed by Tobolowsky and Harris), raises questions about faith, about how we establish trust with others, and what we choose as the foundation for our beliefs. And as Nolan steadily escalates the tension -- like a hangman slowly tightening a noose -- we find ourselves gripped not only by the mystery of the narrative but by the philosophical implications of the characters' actions. Strikingly conceived and executed, with visual panache and diamond-hard portrayals from the leads, Memento is one to remember.

Copyright © 2024 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.