“Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They’re just an interpretation, they’re not a record, and they’re irrelevant if you have the facts.”
Leonard Shelby is as unreliable a narrator as you’re likely to find – mainly because it is not only the audience that is unsure whether they can trust him, but Leonard himself. Suffering from a form of short term memory loss caused by thugs in an attack that also killed his wife, Leonard (played by Guy Pearce in what I consider his signature role) lives only for revenge, surviving each day by taking celluloid pictures and writing endless amounts of notes to keep track of where he’s just been and where he wants to go next.
Memento was Christopher Nolan’s second feature film, before he became best known for his Dark Knight trilogy and mind boggling, big budget epics. For me it’s still his best work, and certainly his most innovative.
In order to keep us in the same state of disorientation as the protagonist, the film’s scenes are shown in reverse order, meaning we see what happens before knowing what came before it. This was more than a simple gimmick designed to catch the audience’s attention, though; it did that for sure, but those who’ve watched the entire film and seen the final scene understand that its structure is essential in delivering quite a unique final twist.
In the end, the movie leaves you wondering whether it’s really convinced by its own rules – a nice narrative element further developed with multiple viewings. Memento is definitely one of my ‘most watched’; though I refuse to watch the alternative version, which shows the scenes in chronological order. That is not how this movie should be viewed, and even after all these years of knowing it, I still feel I wouldn’t want to spoil it for myself next time.