Movie Review By Monica Sullivan
Movies that result in actual goosebumps are so rare that there's no point even trying to make a list. It'd be way too short & goosebumps simply happen: they can't be manufactured. Neo noir fi1mmakers can make gross-out movies their entire career & fail to elicit a single goosebump. "Memento" is the first goosebumper I've felt in such a long time, that I thought it was just because grownups don't get goosebumps from movies, only from the actual fear of real threats. "Memento" fully engaged my attention from the first frame because it was told by Guy Pearce as Leonard, a former San Francisco insurance investigator, as well as a flawed & thoroughly unreliable narrator.
We feel a certain amount of sympathy for Leonard because he seems to have lost his short-term memory after his wife (Jorja Fox) was raped & murdered. Even though he can't retain new information longer then 15m., he is determined to discover who assaulted & killed her. He keeps copious notes of everything he sees, hears & learns. We know how the story ends, because we see it. With each new sequence, we go back in time, not to the beginning, but to the sequence immediately prior to the one we've just watched. It reminded me of something I learned in second grade after reading all the books in a bookmobile library. With each new book, I'd read the last chapter first & then go back, a chapter at a time to the beginning. Even though I knew that time only travels in one direction, reading backwards revealed why the past fits into the present & the future so snugly. And so it does in "Memento." Even so, forewarned is not the same as forearmed & "Memento" will give you the creeps, as it does Leonard.
Director Christopher Nolan based the film on a short story by his younger brother Jonathan, although the decision to film the events of the story in reverse order was that of the director. As viewers, we are just as dense as Leonard about who's who & what's what. For instance, who is Natalie, the cocktail waitress played by Carrie-Anne Moss? She seems, from Leonard's notes, to be helping him. In person, she finds his disability maddening & even taunts him. And what about Teddy (Joe Pantoliano), the street smart character who comes & goes at odd points in the story? Why is Leonard filled with such guilt over an insurance client decision he may have made in error? If he succeeds in avenging his wife's rape & murder, then what will happen to him? Spooky stuff happens all the way through, but we HAVE to know the end of the story. No, wait, we saw that, we have to see the beginning in order to make sense of the end. No, wait, we'll still be seeing everything like Leonard, in 15m. chunks, so can we EVER get it? Yep, Goosebumps. "Memento" opens nationally this week.
© 2001 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 3/28/01
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