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Review: “Memento” two decades later

Christopher Nolan’s sophomore flick changed film and bent genres, paving the way for new filmmakers today.

By Matthew Royer, Staff Writer

Guy Pearce starred in Christopher Nolan's 2000 psychological thriller "Memento." (Photo Courtesy of Newmarket)

Memory loss is no problem in remembering this award-winning blockbuster that reframed the neo-noir and thriller genres for future generations.

Christopher Nolan’s 2001 theatrical release “Memento” chronicles Leonard (Guy Pearce), a man suffering from short-term memory loss as he tries to decipher clues and details of his wife’s brutal murder. Slowly things come together, but only as he can remember them.

Told through the lens of Leonard, Nolan takes the viewer through a fragmented period of time within short 15-minute intervals of the character’s life. Through this timeline, Leonard and the audience seem to work alongside one another in piecing together what is truly going on.

Since “Memento” was released, Nolan has made note of not spelling things out for the viewer; this has become his signature direction and story style. As seen in films like “Inception,” “The Prestige” and “Interstellar,” Nolan reveals a puzzle for the audience to piece back together after gathering clues.

Two decades later, “Memento” has shifted the ways filmgoers watch a movie. While the film features top-notch acting from Pearce and supporting star Joe Pantoliano, in addition to a masterfully crafted non-linear structure, audiences today are still taken aback by the modern stylization and subject matter featured in the 2001 thriller.

Nolan tricks the viewer into believing everything Leonard sees when in reality his mind is clouded in both his memory and judgment. Quickly, it is revealed that everything is not what it seems, but spectators must go along for the ride.

In its almost two-hour runtime, Nolan leaves ambiguity in the plot, allowing for theorization and new concepts about the film even 20 years later.

At the time, Nolan was a young filmmaker coming off of his first film “Following.” Since then, he has built upon his status in Hollywood, inspiring a new generation of filmmakers. Fellow directors such as Edgar Wright and Rian Johnson have named Nolan as one of their inspirations in film, with the latter even classifying his newer work as “all-timers.”

Nolan’s “Memento” is also praised by medical professionals for its portrayal of memory-related conditions, being acknowledged by clinical neurologists at University College London in the British Medical Journal.

“Unlike in most films in this genre, this amnesic character retains his identity, has little retrograde amnesia, and shows several of the severe everyday memory difficulties associated with the disorder,” said Sallie Baxendale, a neurologist at UCL. “The fragmented, almost mosaic quality to the sequence of scenes in the film also cleverly reflects the ‘perpetual present’ nature of the syndrome.”

“Memento” 20 years later is still a film worth watching and a film worth remembering, especially with Nolan’s “Tenet” debuting this past year.

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