Viewing: Memento – Christopher Nolan (originally posted 10th March 2013)
A film with a non linear (i.e forward in time) narrative
I attempted to draw a diagram of this narrative but it got very messy, complex and was more confusing than helpful. Rather, I’ll just relate the plot and describe how I came to fathom out what I think this film is about. The narration of the film is restricted to the point of view of the main character, Leonard who is suffering from short term memory loss after an injury sustained when his wife was raped and murdered by two intruders (he killed one of them before being knocked unconscious). This of course provides an interesting dilemma for the film maker, how to present this condition to the audience in a way that reflects the character’s day to day experience as he seeks out the remaining perpetrator of the crime so that he can exact vengeance.
From the interview with the director shown as an extra on the DVD, it is clear that the viewer being confused and uncertain about the story and the plot is a deliberate ploy by the film maker to let the audience experience the same type of confusion and memory problems that Leonard experiences. This also reinforces the absolute necessity for Leonard to keep daily notes and polaroid photographs of people and locations to keep track of his actions and movements.
Christopher Nolan also points out that his narrative is often described as non-linear. It is a linear narrative but it is shown in reverse, compounding the audiences difficulty in comprehending what is happening. The clue to this is the opening scene when you are shown a polaroid print “un-developing” hinting that everything from this point should be read in reverse.
I watched the film in its entirety twice. At the end of the first viewing I could put together an interpretation of the narrative. The opening scene showed the killing of a man. Subsequent scenes (I assumed) would show how this final act came about. Very soon I was confused but I was making notes so I carried on watching and established that Leonard was looking for the man who raped and murdered his wife and took away his life. He seemed to have assistance in the task from Teddy and Natalie. The two characters appeared to be playing each other off, one against the other but keeping the climactic first scene in mind you started assuming that it all worked out in the end and Leonard tracked down and executed the murderer.
Intercut between the action were scenes in black and white which told the story of another man (a client of Leonard's when he worked as an insurance investigator) who suffered from short term memory loss which helped to explain and also question Leonard’s experience, however this was also told entirely from Leonard's perspective.
My second viewing was in reverse. Using the scene selection menu of the DVD I started watching with scene 15 and worked back to 1. Something interesting happened as a result. It became apparent that Natalie and Teddy were not as they appeared. It was in fact Teddy that Leonard killed in the first scene. Natalie also manipulated Leonard into kidnapping a drugs dealer she suspected of killing her boyfriend. It was in fact Leonard who killed him. At this point, the confusion is absolute and you realise that Leonard is being used. Often in the film he is asked why he wants revenge when he will never remember having it. The narrative is unresolved (in my mind anyway) and the film maker has made the point that with short term memory loss (unable to make new memories) Leonard could be destined to continue his search, being fed false information which targets another “suspect”. Alternatively, Teddy may have been the murderer and Natalie helped Leonard achieve his goal. The audience remains uncertain and the plot remains unresolved………Research blog
Memento is no longer available to me for viewing so for the examples of expansion and contraction of time, I used “Sliding Doors” which has an interesting story line where two possible scenarios are played out in parallel after the heroine misses (or catches) a tube train home after being dismissed from her job.
Compressing time – the rush to the office – under the opening credits. A series of jump cuts compressing time (in this series) to 26 seconds.
Slow motion – The two scenarios which form the basis of the plot occur from the moment Helen approaches the doors of the train. In the scenario where she catches the train by fractions of a second, the action is slowed as she reaches for the doors of the train to prevent them from closing, showing her squeezing through the opening doors.
Cutaway – There is an interesting use of cutaway in this sequence too. Helen is shown inside the train and the camera pans left to show her other self, (who missed the train) standing on the platform by the closed doors, followed by a jump cut from within the train showing her on the platform and a subsequent shot of her sitting in the train to reinforce the idea that two scenarios are being played out.
Dissolve transitions are used to compress time in the bar sequence as Helen drowns her sorrows after learning of Gerry’s infidelity and also to show time passing as Helen sleeps and wakes after her night with James.
Wipes (R to L) and Intercutting are used to show how time passes in Helen’s parallel stories i.e intercuts of her finding work in one life and having a makeover in the other.
Empty Frame – is used when Helen is following Gerry unseen, indicating the delay as she tries to keep out of sight and a safe distance behind him.
These were the only transitions I could identify in the film, fading in and out to black or white seems to be absent in this one.Two Scene Script
Scene 1 Interior – morning summer light
Camera zooms back from sunlit exterior showing summer growth on trees outside and pans to tennis racquet and sports bag on window seat. Girl picks them up, calls out goodbye and leaves by the front door.
Fade to black
Scene 2 Same interior – late afternoon light
Camera on front door, door opens and the same girl rushes in excitedly hold aloft a sports trophy in her free hand and calls out to her mother, “I did it Mum, I did it!”