Kenneth Turan's critic's pick of the week: 'Memento'
"Memento" is not Christopher Nolan's first feature -- the compelling "Following" was his debut -- but it was the film that announced his arrival as a major director. This haunting, nervy thriller about a man who can remember nothing is a provocatively structured film noir that pushes what can be done on screen in an unusual direction.
Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) is a former insurance investigator with a peculiar and devastating mental condition: a blow to the head as he was battling the men who raped and murdered his wife caused him to lose the ability to retain short-term memories.
So while Leonard can recall everything up to that brutal moment, nothing more recent stays in his head for more than a few minutes. Determined to avenge his wife’s death, this defective detective compensates with an elaborate system that includes notes, photographs and, most bizarre of all, key information tattooed on his body so he can read it in a mirror.
Nolan, intent on mirroring Leonard’s point of view, has in effect constructed a thriller that starts at the end and works its way back to the beginning. Yet the more information we get, the more facts we think we can identify, the less we can be sure just what is true.
This is a storytelling method that not only rewards but demands the closest kind of attention. As we come to understand how easy it might be to manipulate the main character we’ve come to care about, the tension and suspense become unbearable.
With the director's branch having peckishly denied Nolan an Oscar nomination for "Inception," this is a fine opportunity to remind ourselves how good a filmmaker he is.
"Memento" will be shown Friday (Feb. 4) at 7:30 p.m. at the American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. A discusssion with Nolan will follow the screening.
-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic
Photo: Guy Pearce and Carrie-Anne Moss in "Memento." Credit: Danny Rothenberg