I really like Memento. I like how instead of tricking you, it teaches you how to watch it from the very first shot of a Polaroid in reverse, and the detective work is in the audience’s hands for every single scene. Leonard solves his problem at the same time the audience does, and even though his decision to stop the cycle is the beginning of the final iteration of his killing spree, it certainly provides enough closure to me as an ending, albeit not a conventionally temporal one.

The unusual choice of reverse-temporal narration allows the audience to really associate with Leonard’s anterograde amnesia…it’s a very powerful empathetic tool…the camerawork seemed very objective at most points…you really felt like you were following Leonard with a handheld camera at times, solving and inspecting as he does…witnessing his tattoos for the first time as he does daily.

The film is definitely a puzzle; it requires a certain level of concentration, even after multiple viewings…we’re just not wired to think of time in that fashion. It’s engaging, demanding, and interactive; even after multiple viewings I have to really concentrate on how the narrative tells the plot.

As Matt mentioned on his blog, this editing technique doesn’t feel gimmicky even though the DVD feature that allows you to watch the movie in conventional temporal order loses almost all of the effect. The genius is in the writing. I don’t think the technique is trendy or gimmicky-I think the script is really innovative.

The reverse-narration totally changes the way a story is told, with twists, teasers, suspense, and betrayals happening early in the plot (and late in the narrative). The style demands the audience to ask questions that they’ll soon know the answer to (why does he seem drunk? Why does she have a black eye?), and continuity techniques like the bookends on every scene or the scars, clothing, and broken windows are very helpful in keeping the whole thing together in your head.

“I have to believe in a world outside my own mind. I have to believe that my actions still have meaning, even if i don’t remember them. I have to believe that when my eyes are closed, the world is still there. Do I believe the world’s still there? Is it still out there?”

Leonard’s inner monologue about the way he perceives the world is applicable to all sorts of media, narratives, and storyworlds. The most convincing films are the ones whose worlds seem to continue after we leave the theatre or take out the DVD…they’re the ones that have convincing set pieces and developed characters.

The same principle applies in videogames such as the grand theft auto or metal gear solid series…in a truly seamless world, we want to happen across a city block or guard as if he’s been doing this all day…not like we just loaded a new level. With higher-capacity hard drives and more advanced engines, this type of seamless gaming is becoming more and more possible and gamers are exploring entire worlds instead of a series of rooms and loading bars…it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

In unrelated news, Gametap has released Psychonauts, a game touted for its innovative and in-depth narrative, for free. It can be found here. I’m playing it and considering it for my essay, but I’m also considering the famous Metal Gear Series.


2 Comments so far

  1. Matthew Leonard on October 15, 2008 10:52 am

    This is a great post Andrew, you mention a lot of great things within ‘Memento’ and it’s strange, I’m not sure I like the film as much as you do, but I have an incredible amount of respect for what the film does with its innovation so it really doesn’t matter. Those cartoon scrolls are great too. However, I must say that it still really bothers me that Leonard has his tattoos in one of the final shots where he is lying with his wife in bed. I’m not sure what the intent was with that one, but it always just makes me think Leonard is an unreliable narrator. What do you think about that?

  2. Andrew on October 15, 2008 11:59 am

    I certainly agree it addresses concerns about Leonard (and anyone’s) reliability to accurately remember their past. Leonard makes a case for hard facts through the movie, comparing his tattoos and notes to the hard evidence that detectives and police use in cracking a case (as opposed to eye-witnesses and anecdotal evidence).

    I like how Teddy brings up that it was actually Leonard’s wife who had diabetes. Even though they don’t completely run with this surprise ending and you get the feeling Teddy’s just saying stuff to save his own skin, it forces the audience to reconsider just how reliable Leonard’s old memories are.

    The fact that he incorrectly remembers himself as tattooed in that scene with his wife further emphasizes how jumbled and skewed personal accounts can become over time, especially when it comes to amnesia.

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