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SUNDANCE 2001: MORIARTY Dizzy From Chris Nolan's MEMENTO!!

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

There is a certain type of film that can be classified as the puzzle, the riddle, the extended mind fuck. When these films work, audiences find themselves watching the film over and over, using each new viewing to try and decipher the clues, sort the facts, make sense of it all. They can be derailed by a single cheat, but when they connect, it’s like no other rush that cinema delivers. There’s a specific pleasure that’s derived from a film like THE LIMEY or THE USUAL SUSPECTS or FIGHT CLUB or THE SPANISH PRISONER. Christopher Nolan understands that pleasure, and his intricate, fascinating new film MEMENTO, making its US premiere at Sundance, is a delight from its shocking beginning to its mind-bending conclusion, and it’s going to be one of the most talked-about films of the year, guaranteed.

The film’s first images are haunting, surreal. We watch a Polaroid photograph of a body with the head blown off gradually fade from vivid color to blank. We watch Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) hold his hand out, only to have a gun leap into it. Shells roll across the floor, then leap into the gun with an explosion just before Teddy’s (Joe Pantoliano) head goes from splattered mess back into shape so he can yell, "NO!" This is the only moment in the film that is literally played backwards, but it’s a perfect visual indication of what we should expect from the film ahead. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film in which time is as fractured as it is here. There’s two different directions in which the narrative runs, as we watch two different series of events play out. It’s difficult to describe, and this is a case where seeing the film makes me desperate to read the script. I can’t imagine how this worked on the page. It could just be a clever device, but instead it creates a sense of disconnection from time that puts us in a shared position with Lenny, a man with a bizarre affliction that has set him adrift in his own life.

Leonard can’t make new memories. He remembers his life up to a certain point, and after that, he’s got nothing. He relies on an elaborate series of clues that he leaves for himself in the form of notes, photos, and even tattoos all over his body that remind him of what his mission is: to find the man that raped and killed his wife. It was during that tragic event that Leonard was dealt the blow to the head that robbed him of his short term memory forever. It’s that even that spurs Leonard forward, even with the odds stacked against him. He’s become a private detective, a ghost, an avenging angel, and a sort of sad comedy routine, all wrapped up in one. Watching him struggle in each new scene to figure himself out again, watching how Christopher Nolan pulls off the delicate balancing act of giving us all the exposition we need but never becoming redundant, never making it difficult to follow Leonard on his peculiar journey.

There’s a few other people along on the ride with Leonard. There’s Natalie (Carrie Anne Moss), who first shows up with a split lip and a black eye. The back of her Polaroid portrait reads, "She has also lost someone. She will help you out of pity." There’s Teddy, the man whose death in reverse opens the film. The back of his portrait reads "Do not believe his lies. HE IS THE ONE. KILL HIM." As we move back in time, further and further from that burst of shocking violence, we quickly learn that we don’t know anything about what we’re watching. We just start to get a grip on what’s happening when Nolan does something that changes the meaning of all we’ve seen before. Then again. Then again. No matter how well we feel we’ve got a character nailed down, Nolan seems able to twist our opinion with ease, without cheating once.

"Remember Sammy Jankis." That’s tattooed on one of Leonard’s hands, and Nolan interweaves the story of Sammy Jankis (the great Stephen Tobolowsky), interweaves Leonard’s telling of it. Nolan’s making a whole different point about the trustworthiness of memory with the way Sammy’s story unfolds. Sammy was afflicted by the same mental disorder that Leonard has, and their paths crossed because Leonard, an investigator for an insurance company, was assigned to check Sammy out and find out if he was faking his condition. The tragedy of Sammy is one of the things Leonard can remember, and he plays it back for himself at any opportunity. He’s fooled himself into thinking that he handles his circumstances better than Sammy did, that he’s somehow mastered his condition. The truth is tragic, though, and unexpected, and to reveal any more of the film’s surprises would be criminal.

The film’s technical collaborators all turn in strong, stylish work. Wally Pfister’s cinematography is sharp, and he does a great job of setting each timeline apart visually, and the skillful cutting by Dody Dorn serves as the perfect compliment, masterfully making each of the film’s difficult transitions in time seem fluid and natural. The film’s got a subtle score by David Julyan, and it underlines the wonderful work that Chris Nolan does in his second at-bat as a writer/director. I missed FOLLOWING, his first film, but will definitely seek it out now. This is a film that’s just plain fun to watch, intriguing, and it feels like an immediate cult classic. It’s genuinely challenging, and there are going to be audiences that resist the film’s various charms. Their loss. They’ll be missing a gripping dramatic turn by Guy Pearce that should do for him what GLADIATOR did for his LA CONFIDENTIAL co-star Russell Crowe: turn him into a star. They’ll be missing a different side of Carrie Anne Moss that suggests she’s got a rich career ahead away from the success of THE MATRIX.

When the film ended this evening, the entire group I saw it with sat around, trying to sort out the film’s ending. There’s some choices that Nolan makes that practically guarantee that if you like it once, you’ll have to see it twice. It’s a great ride and a wicked smart piece of entertainment that you can’t miss whenever it finally makes its push into theaters later this year. 2001 is already off to a hell of a start for me, what with this and SALTON SEA and BLOW all impressing me deeply in different ways. It’s got me primed for a year that might even rival 1999. Let’s keep our fingers crossed, eh?

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • Jan. 15, 2001, 12:40 p.m. CST

    A Rolling Stone Gathers No Carrie-Anne Moss (I'm first! - Haw, h

    by Mush Mouth

  • Jan. 15, 2001, 12:41 p.m. CST

    Mind-fucks & "The Game"

    by Buck_Swope

    Can't wait to see this flick!!! I personally feel that "The Game" is a truly underated film in the mind-fuck sub-genre. There are many superior films (mainly Fight Club) to it, but notenough people seem to recognize the brilliance of the movie. Anyone agree? 2001 is definately looking promising.

  • Jan. 15, 2001, 1:05 p.m. CST

    Hearing more and more about this one, starting to get excited...

    by I am_NOTREAL

    First was an interesting snippet in EW some months back...still infatuated with Carrie-Anne Moss from her turn as uber-hottie Trinity in the best movie of the '90s, I was immediately intrigued...then started hearing more about the story...sounds like something in the same skewed vein as "The Usual Suspects" (a Top 10 pic for me) or "Jacob's Ladder." The buzz has been building for awhile, now I can't wait. There are more movies either out or coming out this year that I want to see than any year I can remember..."The Gift," "The Pledge," "Hannibal," "Memento..." And it's only January 15th!

  • Jan. 15, 2001, 1:14 p.m. CST

    My Most Anticipated Film For '01

    by mrbeaks

    Ever since last year's Toronto Film Festival, I've been on a mission to see this film. It was being screened last October in NYC, but I was never able to hammer down a time and place; ergo, I'm cursed to watch rave upon rave pour in for MEMENTO, while my expectations sail north of those I harbored for EYES WIDE SHUT, or (I'll admit it) THE PHANTOM MENACE. Someone assuage my misery, and get me a screening pronto. Pretty please! I'll be your best friend!

  • Jan. 15, 2001, 1:17 p.m. CST

    I feel like an idiot

    by cohen

    because I could have seen this a month ago (at the sarasota film festival) but I saw "Shadow of the Vampire instead" which I didn't like nearly as much as everyone else seemed to. I like the ending, but I thought that none of the characters ever seemed genuinly scared, so the laughs and the scares were all tongue in cheek. Anyway, here's hoping that memento is as good as I think it's going to be.

  • Jan. 15, 2001, 1:58 p.m. CST

    Best film of 2000

    by Bluedog

    This came out in the UK last year and was definatly the best film released.

  • Jan. 15, 2001, 2:13 p.m. CST

    So when do we ordinary, connectionless people get to see this?

    by All Thumbs

    Does anyone else get vague memories of a movie with Dana Carvey where he had memory problems when they read this article? What was that again...

  • Jan. 15, 2001, 2:25 p.m. CST


    by GEEKBASHER 3.0

    If you go to There is a link to the trailer for this film, Now that I have read a review I cannot wait to watch this Baked Potato!

  • Jan. 15, 2001, 2:58 p.m. CST

    The Game!

    by milo_tindle

    I agree with buck_swope, The Game is the best of the best when it comes to fucking with your mind! Memento sound like it has promise. I just hope 2001 will be more like 99 than 2000

  • Jan. 15, 2001, 2:59 p.m. CST

    The Game!

    by milo_tindle

    I agree with buck_swope, The Game is the best of the best when it comes to fucking with your mind! Memento sound like it has promise. I just hope 2001 will be more like 99 than 2000

  • Jan. 15, 2001, 3:42 p.m. CST

    "Blank Slate"...

    by Toe Jam

    ...was the name of the Dana Carvey movie. And while we're at it, "12 Monkeys" is a pretty cool mindfuck movie in my opinion, although "The Game," "Fight Club," "The Usual Suspects," and all those others are pretty damn good, too. There's a long-form Devo music video that is pretty fucking trippy, also. Anyone know what it was called?

  • Jan. 15, 2001, 4:31 p.m. CST

    evil genius my ass

    by BigWednesday

    you're a mentally deficient puke

  • Jan. 15, 2001, 5:36 p.m. CST

    The official site: , is amazing. (Yep, th

    by Pepperseed

    I have been waiting with baited breath to see this film ever since I discovered the site. It's a perfect example of what the studio's should be doing with their movie sites. Although, maybe they think the Godzilla debacle outweighs the Blair Witch success. Whatever, this site rule's...

  • Jan. 15, 2001, 5:51 p.m. CST

    Isn't it appropriate that the talk back order is all fucked up..

    by Pepperseed

    ?it is or ...coincidences freaky those love Gotta

  • Jan. 15, 2001, 10:04 p.m. CST

    that dana carvey comedy was 'clean slate'...

    by tommy5tone

    ...and it wasn't half bad IMHO. directed by the guy who did 'LA story', it had a few cool twists. 'memento' sounds utterly kickass - any word on australian release dates?

  • Jan. 15, 2001, 10:16 p.m. CST

    "if i'm not me, who the hell am i?"

    by tommy5tone

    the original and best mindfuck is 'total recall' - i remember letting out an audible 'no way!' when that psychiatrist guy showed up on mars and claimed that ah-nuld was hallucinating the whole thing. solid runner-up is '12 monkeys'.

  • Jan. 15, 2001, 11:40 p.m. CST


    by judgejaba

    Memento is a great film to watch and it is easy to follow until halfway through until the scene with Carrie-Anne Moss and Mr Pierce which completely changes every idea about the film you had been having until that point. I really enjoyed it but the ending was slightly dissapointing as you wanted to find out what exactly had happened to his wife. None the less I would recommend this film to everyone. Just don't make any assumptions as you will get a shock.

  • Jan. 16, 2001, 3:38 a.m. CST

    by Mr_ant

    Jesus christ - collectively you are all giving way too much away - this film is so much more amazing the less you know about it - Moriarty - your review reveals too much - it obviously doesnt give away the ending - but it says too much - even about the start of the film... people dont need to know that stuff until they watch the film for themselves. All they need to know is that its the best film of the year. Or Two years, as it happens. I love how the opening trains you to watch the film btw.

  • Jan. 16, 2001, 3:42 a.m. CST


    by Mr_ant

    that film is damn interesting, it had a one day showing in Dublin, I'm very glad I caught it - really interesting idea, er... turns into a regular "twist thriller" somewhat unnecessarily, but the most amazing thing is watching Nolan develop as a director in such a short amount of time - this guy is gonna have a seriously interesting future. I get the impression he has something genuine to add to cinema history... not to build him too much or anything...

  • Jan. 16, 2001, 3:49 a.m. CST


    by Lexicon

    I was terribly lucky to see this in Paris last November. What a superb film. I happen to love Guy Pearce but I am not a blind devotee. He's absolute perfect in this. I complete forgot he's Aussie (actually British) as his American accent in dead on the money. The supporting cast is great as well. I was very surprised by the talent of the supporting players. Momento is very much like the Usual Suspect in that you are asking yourself a hundred questions before the movie ends and afterwards.I can't wait to see it in March when it's released here in the US just so I can discuss it with someone!! Don't miss this one if you get a chance.

  • Jan. 16, 2001, 6:59 a.m. CST


    by macaloon

    Following was a seriously cool film. The guy who played the sophisticated psycho was brilliant - kind of like a sinister rupert everett. does anyone know if he has made any other films?

  • Jan. 16, 2001, 7:23 a.m. CST

    Observational abilities

    by Brendon

    None of you seem to posess any. And none of you seem to have any idea how to read a film. Twists are universally a) obviously apparent to anyone really listening and looking at the screen or b) a cheat dependant on hidden information. Any twist that 'plays fair' is pretty easy to grasp. And besides, to judge a film by the surprise or lack thereof is to miss the point. Memento, for example, was a pretty good short film in potential that laboured it's 'point' over a far too long running time. Once themes were introduced, waiting for the penny to drop was torturous. Not a bad film, per se, just a rather simple and eventually tedious one. Shame. It had so much potential.

  • Jan. 16, 2001, 9:23 a.m. CST

    Where's MADE?

    by Smurfette

  • Jan. 16, 2001, 2:22 p.m. CST

    twisty twisty

    by QuizKidDonnie

    all these movies with the "gotcha!" factor are becoming an annoying and predictable trend. If someone told you the movie has a twist, you're gonna be looking for it the whole time and trying to guess it. It usually works for me but I find a known twist factor to be a little disctracting in movies. Having said that I've been relishing the buzz on Memento and I expect it to kick ace. CA Moss has a promising future and I've loved Guy Pearce since he had an Abba turd in a bottle, not to mention his turn in LA Confidential. By the way the long Devo film may have been Human Highway? Directed by Neil Young, lots of Devo, some trippy visuals, lots of weird star cameos. I tried to get thru it not long ago on video but I didn't make it. May not have aged well, since the old days on USA's Night Flight.

  • Jan. 16, 2001, 3:32 p.m. CST

    here's a vote for Angel Heart also...

    by Fatal Discharge

    because it did the same thing when it wasn't popular to do so. Mickey Rourke actually had talent then before he pissed it all away. Any movie with voodoo, New Orleans, and DeNiro as the devil is a must-see. I love all the other films discussed here so if you haven't seen this one, check it out.

  • Jan. 16, 2001, 5:28 p.m. CST

    by Pryors Moustache

    Just checked it out - IT IS FUCKING FANTASTIC!!! Joe Pantoliano looks foul.