Why MEMENTO disappointed me

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Jon_Are, Sep 17, 2001.

  1. Jon_Are

    Jon_Are Cinematographer

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    After reading all the raves for this film here at HTF, I came very close to purchasing it unseen. I decided to practice restraint and headed to my local video store to rent it. None available. Was this a sign I should purchase? I drove to another rental joint, telling myself that if it was not on the shelf, I would head over to Target and buy it. Luckily for me, as it turns out, I was able to rent it.
    I try to not let high expectations and preconceptions diminish my viewing experience, but I suppose a certain amount is unavoidable. This is a clever, semi-engaging, and extremely well-acted movie, but my thumb is down. Here's why:
    The reverse-chronology was a poor choice, and, once chosen, was handled badly. This technique worked beautifully in Betrayal, and again in Pulp Fiction, but in Memento, the editing seems to have been done with a paper shredder. Three minutes of this, a minute and a half of that, four minutes of this...the plot is difficult enough to decipher without this herky-jerky pacing. By the end, I gave up sorting out the story and my despair turned into anger that I was subjected to such an impossible task. I've read many, many interpretations on these boards and elsewhere, and no where have I run across a soul who feels confident his is the correct one (yeah, I know...the endless discussions are what make this movie so great). Reminds me of all the storys about The Big Sleep, in which even the director lost track of Whodunnit.
    There are a lot of good things about the film, and I So wanted to like it; but I ultimately felt like a patsy for having been drawn into the mystery with the best intentions of solving it, and then feeling that there is no viable solution to be found.
    Also...if Lenny can "make no new memories", why is he not shocked every time he sees his tatoos anew? How does he even know to refer to his photographs, and to flip them over to read his notes? How does he even remember he has a 'condition' (when he keeps explaining it to people he meets)? How does he know to return to the same tatoo parlor each time he needs a new one?
    Want to view a smart, engrossing, solvable mystery? Check out The Spanish Prisoner.
    I know I'm alone here, and I'm donning my asbestos underwear. Fire away.
    Jon
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  2. Greg Ambrose

    Greg Ambrose Auditioning

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    Hi Jon:
    I've no interest in flaming you, I certainly respect your disliking a movie that I have enjoyed a great deal. But, as you can no doubt guess, I take issue with several of your statements.
    I hear again and again that the reverse chronology is a gimmick, a sleight of hand trick to distract the viewer from a lack of substance. I don't feel this is the case though: To my way of thinking, the movie is self-contained for almost all questions you can imagine. I say almost all because I still have 2 unanswered questions that repeat viewings haven't solved - if anyone is curious, I'll discuss them with you. Also, the reverse chronology effectively puts the viewer in Leonard's shoes - not just viewing events from a bird's eye view, but experiencing the confusion and shock as Leonard does. I realize it doesn't work for everyone, but it was a refreshing change of pace for me as a viewer, and an interesting puzzle to think over after the movie was done.
    Also, as to the 'no new memories' thing - as I have stated in another thread, I think this is taken too literally by many viewers. I am no expert on psychological disorders, but I do know the brain is not completely understood. Plus, Leonard carried some things through time in his head - I remember him commenting that at times he felt angry but didn't know why, or sad but could not remember the cause. And he also said that since his damage was not physical, he was capable of 'conditioning' himself to remember certain things, to let instinct take over.
    Again, I'm not out to convert you. I enjoy lively debate, and I consider Memento to be my favorite movie I have seen so far this year. Take care!
     
  3. Doug R

    Doug R Supporting Actor

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    Greg, I'd like to hear your unanswered questions =)
    I'd agree with everything that Greg said, though add that some of the faults you found in Memento is why many people enjoyed it -- that the movie doesn't explain everything and is open to individual interpretation at times.
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  4. AaronNWilson

    AaronNWilson Second Unit

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    Greg I don't think that you can be sure that his condition is physical. Why do you think it is physical?
    Aaron
     
  5. Jeremiah

    Jeremiah Screenwriter

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    I just saw the movie a week ago and thought that movie was the best I have seen in awile.
    I loved how the movie was filmed backwards, like Greg stated it puts us in Leonard's shoes by not knowing what happened earlier.
    "I don't feel drunk"
    "What am I doing? Oh, I must be chasing that guy"
    Those just crack me up.
     
  6. Mark Turetsky

    Mark Turetsky Supporting Actor

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    As for why he isn't shocked to see his tattoos, there's a scene where he explains that certain functions of memory aren't affected. He says the type of memory that tells him what something will feel like or sound like isn't affected, the kind of memory we take for granted. That being the case, if he woke up day after day seeing tattoos all over his body, he would get used to it, and adjust his self-image to that.
    Case in point: have you ever altered your appearance significantly? Like gotten your head shaved, or your hair dyed, or shaved off a beard. It can be quite shocking the first few days looking at yourself in the mirror. But slowly, you begin to adjust. This sort of memory isn't affected by your memory of events: you still remember getting the haircut, or shave, or whatever, but you're still shocked by it at first. Leonard's condition did not affect that part of his brain. It only affected short term memory and the creation of new long term memories.
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  7. Patrick Sun

    Patrick Sun Moderator
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    The Spanish Prisoner? The Spanish Prisoner? Eye-yi-yi! That was an average movie.
     
  8. Dave Barth

    Dave Barth Stunt Coordinator

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    I can only say that I disagree with Jon's opinion that the decision to use reverse chronological order was poor, the technique was handled poorly, and the film was difficult to follow.
    The decision to use reverse chronological order was inspired. This ordering has the effect of putting the audience in Leonard's shoes.
    I thought the technique was used well. The chronological segments are short enough that I didn't lose track of what was going on, plus the movie overlaps slightly (especially in the first hour - as far as I recall LOL!).
    I would agree that the film is more challenging and disorienting than most films, but that's an intentional effect designed to convey some sense of Leonard's existence. I also found it made the film engaging, as each sequence's start was a mystery ended by the end of the next sequence. So you view a sequence of little mysteries that link together to provide some insight into the overarching mysteries of the film. I would say the absense of definitive answers for many of these questions is not a cop out by the writers; instead, it is entirely apropo given the subject nature of the film.
    Lest you think I'm an apologist for creative intent, let me switch gears for a moment to say, for example, there are no stylistic and substantive rationales, and ultimately, no excuses, for the shambles Chris Carter allowed [The X-Files to become. And Ridley Scott should have kept his mouth shut about Blade Runner, even though Deckard's nature is rather obvious in the early 90s "Director's Cut".
    Jon, I would guess if you were to see the film again, your opinion of it would rise. It sounds like you got lost in the film and were unable to regain your bearings. As Memento is a sequence of scenes, it's important the viewer be able to keep in mind the preceeding events. Getting lost certainly wasn't what was supposed to happen. As it happened to me with the Usual Suspects and lead me to wonder what all the fuss over that movie was about, I certainly can sympathize.
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  9. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    quote: but I ultimately felt like a patsy for having been drawn into the mystery with the best intentions of solving it, and then feeling that there is no viable solution to be found. [/quote] It's true; if a complete and unambiguous "solution" is a prerequisite to your viewing pleasure, Memento will disappoint. It takes the notion of the unreliable narrator to the farthest point imaginable by making him not only unreliable for us, but unreliable for himself. (Leonard's last words in the film sum it all up: "Now where was I?" As the film amply demonstrates, it's a question he can never answer with certainty.)
    A better way to watch the film, I would suggest, is not to try to "solve" it, but to try to follow the various strands that lead off in alternative directions. Ultimately the film isn't about what happened to Leonard; it's about questioning how we "know" what we think we know -- what we assume, what we take for granted, what constitutes a "fact", how we decide what to believe and what to disbelieve.
    quote: The Spanish Prisoner? The Spanish Prisoner? Eye-yi-yi! That was an average movie. [/quote] There must be something wrong with me; I liked 'em both. [​IMG] And The Spanish Prisoner may be a lot of things, but no film can be considered "average" that features Spoiler:Steve Martin as a creepy bad guy.
    M.
    [Edited last by Michael Reuben on September 18, 2001 at 08:21 AM]
     
  10. JonZ

    JonZ Lead Actor

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    Lennys explaination was instinct and conditioning(which could be imprinted in to the brain with repetition)wasnt affected by his disorder it was a seperate part of the brain than memory.
    I also dont agree with the complaint about reverse order of the film - I was just a suprised to see how it unraveled backwards.
    Fantastic movie.
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    one thousand more years of the same old crap" Jose Chung
    [Edited last by JonZ on September 18, 2001 at 07:52 AM]
     
  11. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

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    I enjoyed the movie, but it felt more like a film-school exercise than anything resembling a lasting work of art.
    Obvious comparisons to Pinter's plays arise, but Memento simply doesn't rise to that level of achievement. It's just a good pulp tale given an interesting narrative structure. It's gimmicky to some extent, but it also allows the viewer some sense of what suffering from such a disorder might be like. This disorienting effect is, to me, the most interesting result of the film's structure.
    But the seams were simply too obvious. The film felt "constructed". The hand of the director was ever-visible and thus I never forgot for a moment that there was theory behind the structure, a formula that kept revealing itself and causing me to consider the process of editing and scriptwriting at the expense of any insight into the human condition. It was a tight film, one that never betrayed it's pre-established parameters, closely hewing to the narrative plan at every point. But it revealed it's structure quickly and the scenes then progressed like parts on an assembly-line. It was impressive in its total commitment to form, but in the end it wasn't much more than that.
    And formalism alone, while not completely sinking the film, doesn't quite float my boat.
     
  12. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    quote: Obvious comparisons to Pinter's plays arise[/quote] Are there any besides Betrayal that run in reverse chronological order?
    In any case, Pinter's use of reverse chronology is hardly original. Kaufman and Hart did it in the 1934 play Merrily We Roll Along, which was subsequently adapted into a musical by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth, preserving the reverse chronology. (Even the score seems to be reversed.) And Tom Stoppard, never one to be outdone, wrote a play that went backward 30 years and then forward again to the present day; the title is Artist Descending a Staircase.
    Every one of these works is "gimmicky". It's impossible to violate standard narrative conventions without giving a sense that the work is "constructed". (Does Joyce's Ulysses, which violates narrative conventions even more radically, feel any less artificial than Memento?) The question is whether there's a point beyond the gimmick. For reasons I've outlined above, I think there is in Memento. (For the record, I'm not sure there is one in Betrayal -- but that's how I often feel about Pinter. [​IMG])
    M.
    [Edited last by Michael Reuben on September 18, 2001 at 10:04 AM]
     
  13. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

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    Like I said "t's gimmicky to some extent, but it also allows the viewer some sense of what suffering from such a disorder might be like. This disorienting effect is, to me, the most interesting result of the film's structure."

    Hey, I'm trying to give it all the credit I can muster!

    The point I'm making is not that the reverse narrative is in anyway problematic, but that, beyond this, there isn't anything to it. It's simply and all-too-obviously an exercise in narrative style. Beyond considerations of its formula, there's nothing there to capture my fascination. It's just another pulp tale.

    And I think of other films that use a handicap or illness as a starting point for an exploration of human nature - films like PROOF or SAFE - which are so multivalent that they become metaphors of modern life. They transcend their subject matter and speak to timeless issues of human fears and anxieties in a way that MEMENTO doesn't begin to.

    And, yet, I appreciate it for what it is even as I lament what it might have been. It's interesting enough to sustain a single viewing, but beyond assuring oneself that the director didn't "cheat" or deviate from his formula, there's nothing to be gained from subsequent viewings.

    Or maybe there is? If so, I concede that I didn't catch it. And I never seem to hear anyone speak to anything beyond its formula.
     
  14. Coressel

    Coressel Supporting Actor

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    "Also...if Lenny can "make no new memories", why is he not shocked every time he sees his tatoos anew?"
    I thought he WAS.
    Actually, I didn't go nuts over this movie as much as I thought I would, but I did totally enjoy it. Anything that leaves an audience scratching their heads and wondering just what the hell happened is ok in my book.
     
  15. Patrick Sun

    Patrick Sun Moderator
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    I think one of the underlying themes in Mememto is "Who are we if we can't sustain our memories?" And to me, that's actually an intrigueing premise. It's tough enough to try to figure out who we are with normal memory capacity, but to try to do it when your memory fails you on a consistent would be traumatic, if not for the fact that you forget that it's traumatic to you unless you create a system for memory triggers that borders on OCD without the motivation behind being with OCD.
    Do a lack of memories allow us to act more uninhibited due to a lack of a moral compass based on a lifetime of memories that would inhibit otherwise? These are the kind of questions I came out after seeing Mememto.
    Maybe subsequent viewings of Mememto would make you appreciate your memories more than before ever setting eyes on this film.
    Sidenote on "The Spanish Prisoner" - I wasn't too enamored with Rebecca Pidgeon's performance (her speaking in the Mamet-esque dialect just drove me to distraction to enjoying the film).
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  16. Darren H

    Darren H Second Unit

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    Al, you've pretty well summed up my response to Memento. I watched it for the first time last night, enjoyed the ride, spent an hour discussing it with my wife, then was left with little interest other than figuring out how (or if) it works. I read through the link you provided in another thread -- the Salon.com article that dissects and reconstructs the story -- and was disappointed to find that the author offered few insights that I hadn't gleaned on my own first viewing (though I probably will go looking for the subliminal images, but only out of curiosity).
    I agree with the author of the Salon article in that Nolan plays "dirty pool," building his film upon rules -- Leonard's "condition" -- that he then subverts without warning. That he would probably excuse himself on the grounds of questioning memory or problematizing history/truth/facts seems disingenuous to me.
    And speaking of Pinter . . .
    Had Nolan truly made a Post-Modern detective story along the lines of Pynchon's Lot 49, Wallace's Broom of the System, or Reed's Mumbo Jumbo, I would be much more willing to debate Memento's merits. The difference for me, I guess, is that the great PoMo fiction subverts established genres in order to very self-consciously reveal the impossibility of an epistemological quest. Memento does just the opposite. Nolan *uses* the unknowability (is that a word?) of truth as a gimmick in order to rebuild a genre. He does so with impressive skill, but, like Al, all I've been thinking about this morning is the film that Nolan didn't make.
    [Edited last by Darren H on September 18, 2001 at 03:49 PM]
     
  17. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

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  18. Billy Fogerty

    Billy Fogerty Stunt Coordinator

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    I'm glad I only rented Memento. I watched it lastnight. I was anticipating a good movie. I was actually very boring, and confusing. Also, it was very slow moving. I'm really glad I didn't see this in the theater or purchase it. [​IMG]
     
  19. Patrick Sun

    Patrick Sun Moderator
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    If Lenny didn't invent the revenge-motive for himself after satisfying it, he'd be left in that vegatative-state (shown in that split-second shot spliced in a la Fight Club) when it was showing Sam? in some sort of institution. I guess Lenny was able to remember enough to try and make sure he'd have a purpose in life when he got up in the morning, unfortunately, it's quite a violent occupation. [​IMG]
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  20. Greg Ambrose

    Greg Ambrose Auditioning

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    Hey Doug:
    Sure, I'll let you in on my questions -
    One, where did the name 'John G' originate from? I assume it was fed to Leonard by Teddy, but it's odd to me that he would do so since his own name was John G as well. If I were Teddy, I think the inherent danger in that kind of connection, especially to a mentally unstable individual, would be dangerous. But I can't think of anywhere else the info would come from. Could it be that both Teddy and the rapist were both John G's?
    And last, why did Leonard dress in the drug dealer's clothes? I read a post somewhere (memory is failing me) that Leonard was beginning his self-programming here, to take over his life and money - but I don't think so. Teddy had not yet made his revelations to Leonard - there's no motivation for Leonard to do this. Can anyone give me a push?
    To Al:
    I can't fault you for disliking the movie, and I am in fact impressed by your analytical approach. Memento was, for me at least, one of those rare movies that worked its way into my head. Popped up at the strangest times with those little twists that showed themselves after reflection. I HAD to see it again to work out a lot of details. But, I think it's unfair to call it a 'film school exercise'. I believe there is something down under the clever device; a simple story, maybe, but not a pointless one. I read an article a few months back about people who suffered a sharp blow to the right frontal lobe, and subsequently more or less reversed personality traits. One fellow couldn't keep a job, and walked out on his family to whom he had always been faithful to before. It's a different sort of disorder, but it started me thinking about capital s Self. And Memento took it just a little farther.
    Look at it this way: if you could see the movie backwards, do you think the film would be a waste of time? You may very well think so, but I think it would be like watching a slow-motion train wreck: Leonard programs himself to slip his leash, and kill Teddy. Also, I believe this derails his planned revenge - someone mentioned before that Leonard is his own worst enemy, but constantly setting himself up on a cycle of false revenge because he has nothing else. But I think Leonard is destroying the cycle by killing Teddy. Who else is there to run interference for him? I think that instead of a nihilistic exercise, it's an attempt by Leonard to balance the scale, though definitely in (appropriately) a twisted way.
    But I've rambled on too long, I've always had a hard time thinking in straight lines. Regards!
     

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