Why MEMENTO disappointed me

Seth Paxton

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It's a very intriguing premise, but one that's not really explored by the film.
Man, Al, I gotta disagree with you on this one. I think Patrick is really on to the main theme, which is underlined by some superb dialog. Having just watched it yet again, I was very in tune with some of these points since I was freed from dealing with the general structure.
Time and time again we take sidebars to investigate how Lenny is dealing with his wife's death. Catching the killer is the top layer, the pulp novel aspect, and the reverse telling of the story lends itself primarily to that. But the dialog, that is about a man dealing with life when his ability to mentally deal with life (assimilate thoughts and have a sense of time passing) has been removed from him.
Plus, even Teddy has dialog that talks about compromises any of us make to be happy. In the end we learn that our hero has betrayed himself and sent himself on a murder mission of Teddy for the sole purpose of maintaining his own happiness. The way he maintains his mental barriers and hides from the truth is no different from so many of us who use other methods to accomplish the same goal.
And that is the primary foil that Lenny is battling, not Teddy or Natalie. They are fleeting moments in his life, Teddy will be killed and Lenny will still continue on with his situation. Natalie has feelings for him, but when she finds out that she can't make him remember her (she is hurt at the coffee shop) we know she will move on as well. He will no longer have other people in his life, and therefore no human obsticles. He doesn't hate Teddy because he doesn't know Teddy.
The narrative who-done-it is just used to piggy-back this deeper character investigation. And one of the reasons I so strongly believe that is because of the ending scene. That scene is all about how he wants to deal with knowing he did it and every action he takes is to hide this info from himself. Sure we find out that he sent himself onto Teddy, but the REASON he is doing it is the center of the final, climatic scene. That tells me that is the primary focus of the film, not the detective narrative on top of it. It's not like they randomly picked the ending scene/dialog to be that, it's done for a reason.
And with that being said, I will have to strongly agree with those who have said that the reverse order is far from gimmicky, but rather inherent in telling the story in a way that allows the audiances some relation with Lenny.
You may think it would be just the same in order, but it wouldn't. Instead you would find yourself identifying more with Teddy and Natalie because Lenny's situation just wouldn't make complete sense to us. We might even question whether or not he was faking, for how could we totally understand what it is to not know these people. We are already picking up personalities and feelings about the characters that he doesn't have while we watch the reverse method.
And to add to it's editing/directing strength is the pacing with which the ending sub-plot is undercut throughout the "main" storyline, with the 2 stories converging right before the climax.
I would place the dialog as the best achievement in the film though. Some very excellent moments, especially the dialog down the stretch.
To top it all off, I think Guy Pearce gives one of the best male performances of the year so far. I'd put Nicholson's Pledge and John Cameron Mitchell's Hedwig up there as well.
He is believable as a detective sort, believable as a guy who forgets, and shows good, often subtle, emotions in most scenes. Instead of so wailing and moaning he has an almost bitter edge to him, he plays it jaded, betrayed by his condition, so that he is somber but tough.
I can see both supporting roles getting mentioned for awards as well.
--regarding the actual plot--
He doesn't go to the same tattoo place. In fact, we see him doing his own tattoo at one point and as far as I remember we only see the final tattoo parlor. When else do we see him there getting tattoos??
The narrative also quite clearly explains that CONDITIONING is possible. They spend a great deal of time going over that. He explains that he can do it and that is how he gets by. He has learned to look for photos and tattoos to figure things out, and even still he sometimes finds himself surprised by his own tattoos.
 

Seth Paxton

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Many of us believe what Teddy says at the end. The police didn't believe Lenny, but there was a 2nd man at the crime scene, a John G. They did find and kill him, although we now know that John G DIDN'T kill his wife. Teddy did help him find the guy and expected it to make Lenny feel better, just like Natalie was sure that her kiss and emotions would stick, just like Lenny's wife was certain that the insulin test would work.
In the end, all 3 people learn that they can't break through the barrier. So Teddy, being a less than honest cop, starts feeding Lenny new info and uses him to do some dirty work for him. Bad luck for him that he opens his mouth about being a John G. because it gives Lenny the chance to take him out (or a better chance assuming he would find a way somehow).
 

Paul O

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Jul 28, 2000
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I was dissapointed with Memento after all the high praise it recieved- was it different? - Yes, challenging? - Yes, disorienting? - Yes, tedious? - Yes, well acted? - Yes, but do i have any desire to see it again? - No.
 

Rick Bertuzzi

Auditioning
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Sep 16, 2001
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8
Hello everyone,
Sorry to hear that you did not enjoy this film Jon. I had very high hopes after hearing all the hype and so the movie didn't quite live up to my expectations. But I still liked it. For me, the film was done quite well.
Jon, if you still have questions about this film, or anyone else for that matter, you might want to check out the film's web site: http://www.otnemem.com
Ciao,
Rick.
[Edited last by Rick Bertuzzi on September 19, 2001 at 12:45 AM]
 

BrianKM

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Jan 15, 2001
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106
Seth,
I strongly concur with a lot of your observations. As one moves past the intrigue of the surface story and chronological rearrangement, the movie turns into a well drawn character study. Having seen the movie three times now (with several more to go - thanks Netflix!), dialogue that I had initially dismissed as filler and required exposition now adds new dimensions and nuances to the film's characters, and also serve to tighten up the film's internal logic.
As for the idea that he goes back to the same tatoo place,
I thought it was fairly obvious that each one was probably done at a different place. The most obvious example of this is that the clues (i.e. white, male, G___) were all done in a different "font" - it's one of those little details that adds a lot to the credibility of the story. Furthermore, when Lenny stops at the tatoo parlor to get Teddy's license plate tatooed on his thigh (didn't Teddy notice that when he came in? - heheh), he locks up the tires on the Jag because he wasn't expecting to stop there. He simply notices the tatoo parlor while driving and makes the split second decision to stop there.
 

Les Samuel

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Jun 4, 2000
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106
I thought the flick was great but can someone answer this for me. Several times Lenny awakes from sleeping and runs into someone he knows, quite a few times..........Teddy.
The first thing he does is goes into his pockets and looks for a polaroid with the person's picture. If he has no short term memory how does he know to do this on several occasions? How does he remember those pictures are in his pocket in the first place?

The scene that sticks out the most in my mind is when he wakes up and say's "Where am I, I'm not drunk" Teddy then knocks on the door. He looks through the peep-hole and immediately goes to his jacket to see if he knows Teddy.
 

Doug R

Supporting Actor
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Oct 26, 2000
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Les, it's discussed throughout the film that Leonard can learn, thus remember, through repetition. He checks his photos every time he feels forgetful, thus he begins to learn and remember through repeating the act.
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Jeremiah

Screenwriter
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Jun 22, 2001
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I bet this was discussed in the 120 post thread but please humor me....
Since Leanard has full memory before the accident he would know that his wife was or wasn't a diabetic right? So when Teddy tells Leonard that his wife was a diabetic, not Sammy's wife Leonard should know. Correct?
 

Rich Malloy

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Apr 9, 2000
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Man, Al, I gotta disagree with you on this one. I think Patrick is really on to the main theme, which is underlined by some superb dialog.
Do you mean Patrick's statement "I think one of the underlying themes in Mememto is "Who are we if we can't sustain our memories? etc."
I do agree that this is the main theme, and I responded by saying "It's a very intriguing premise, but one that's not really explored by the film. **** I think one could say that the protagonist came to define himself solely in terms of his revenge-motive. And once that revenge-motive was in danger of being removed as his defining characteristic, he took advantage of his own debilitation (just as all the others had) to maintain this personal fiction that now defines him."
I suggested yesterday that this was "mere irony", but perhaps I've shortchanged it a little. Maybe it's not just another ironic observation masquerading as deep insight. In all my responses yesterday, I was overlooking what might have been the other major revelation of the ending: that it was Leonard - not Sammy - who killed his wife via the insulin injections. But, of course, Nolan maintains a certain degree of ambiguity on this question, though he does allow this more tragic element to color our impressions of Lenny, tying up his identity as "his wife's perpetual avenger" with notions of perpetually fleeing from his own guilt for having been the one who finally did her in.
This is also one of those areas where Nolan seems to have diverged somewhat from the complex of symptoms he's established for Lenny's injury. For how could Lenny confabulate the Sammy "cover story" for his wife's death by injection, since his wife's death by injection would have occurred subsequent to his injury, if it occurred at all? Unless, then, we're meant to draw the conclusion that Lenny's "injury" is in fact purely psychological (or psychosomatic), that indeed it has nothing whatsoever to do with injuries to his brain tissue resulting from the attack, but rather was always a coping mechanism. The "what if's" that arise when we attempt to decipher the apparently contradictory events and explanations we've been given do lead to some interesting areas.
But, again, the film suffers by comparison to an extraordinary documentary I saw on PBS some 7-8 years ago on the very same kind of injury (an injury to the hippocampus, as I recall), but which explored all the questions of identity and meaning and searching that I believe are largely absent or only feinted at in MEMENTO. But perhaps I'm being unfair in my expectations. Perhaps I should allow MEMENTO to use this element as a tool in service of its noirish nihilism rather than the full exploration of human identity and meaning that I was hoping for given the premise of his "injury". After all, I can't fault Nolan for succeeding in making the film he wanted to make.
Nonetheless, there's an element of contrivance to the structure that undermines its ambiguity in my eyes, making it's inscrutability seem more mundane, like a child's puzzle-box, rather than the universal mystery contained in some existential koan. But I'll certainly allow it props for style, and I'll be careful not to dismiss those avenues of deeper meaning that may be contained within its unresolved ambiguities and contradictions.
 

Jon_Are

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Jun 25, 2001
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Original poster here...
Al sums up my feelings about the film better than I was able:
The film felt "constructed"
With regard to 'Betrayal', the reverse chronology was so effective because, as the film progressed, the viewer carried knowledge and insights into the lives of the characters that they themselves lacked. With each change of time, the viewer's understanding grew and the characters' naïveté became clearer. Towards the end, it was heartbreaking to see the oblivious 'happy couple'. For these reasons, the use of this device added texture and meaning to the film. With Memento, there was no sense that this choice was anything more than a whim.
I'll concede my tattoo parlor argument, as well as the fact that he may have become accustomed to seeing the tattoos day after day (although, for me this weakens the film; allowances of the basic premise are being made when convenience of plot demands). However, whenever Lenny stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out his stack of photos, flipping through them like a kid with a stack of baseball cards, looking for his notations...he sure didn't resemble a man with a fragile hippocampus.
And now I'll say this: few films have invaded my day-to-day existence with 'what-ifs' and 'why-nots' as Memento. It's been over a week since I watched it, and I catch myself re-running scenes in my mind as I drive to work. Does this make it a great film? Not necessarily. It simply makes it an affective – if not effective – piece of work.
I guess what really has me worked up – what makes me care – is that the movie contains hunks of brilliance. It could have been a masterpiece.
As Maxwell Smart might say, “missed it by that much”.
Jon
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"This one goes to eleven." (Nigel Tufnel)
 

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