3.Avatar Review
     A Review of Poetry, Prose, and Art - Summer 2001


Lori Anne VanDaele

Want my recommendation regarding this movie? Stop reading, get up, go to the nearest movie theatre and see Memento now. If you've got a few minutes to spare before the next showing, however, or if you really must know why you have to see this film, read on.

Memento is about memory. Memory is an elusive, fragmented thing, but is the cornerstone which we rely upon in how we perceive and interact with the world. How can you have any sort of meaningful interaction with another human being when, every time you see them, it is as if you are meeting them for the first time because you have no recollection of having seen that person before? How can your life move forward if you are stuck in a constant cycle of waking up every morning and trying to piece together where you are and what you are doing? One of my favorite lines in this film goes something like “if you close your eyes, you know the world is still there.” Well, yes, you do, but the problem is you do not know exactly what it is that is out there and if you're not careful you could walk in front of a car and get run over.

Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) has no memories, at least of recent events. He is a former insurance investigator whose wife was attacked one night. During his struggle with her attacker, he was hit on the head and now can remember nothing since the attack for more than a few minutes.

Leonard's life now revolves around avenging his wife's death. He tattoos important facts about his investigation onto his body. He takes Polaroid photographs of people, places, and things he needs to remember, jotting notes on the back regarding who what they are and what he needs to remember about each of them. He has a system and he believes that, with enough self-discipline and repetition of action, he can function well enough to complete his task.

In the course of his investigation, Leonard comes into repeated contact with two people: Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Teddy (Joe Pantoliano). As with everything else in his life, he must photograph and take notes on them so that he will know whether or not he can trust them. Are they trying to help him, or are they lying to him to fulfill their own agendas?

The story is told backwards; that is, it takes a segment of Leonard's life from point a to point b and runs it in reverse, starting from b and working back to a. At intervals, there are black-and-white film snippets of Leonard talking about Sammy Jankins, a man who also had short-term memory and loss who Leonard investigated when he was an insurance investigator. As a result of this backwards chronology, the audience shares with Leonard his confusion regarding what is going on (for example, he's running down the street thinking “Am I chasing someone, or am I being chased?”). Because we can remember, however, we slowly piece the puzzle together.

Finally, a word about the performances. I've seen Guy Pearce in four films now – as a gleeful transvestite in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Ed Exley the ambitious police detective in L.A. Confidential, a would-be cannibal in Ravenous, and now this – and he's never disappointed. He is terrific here – convincing and somewhat vulnerable as the would-be hero. Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix, Chocolat) plays Natalie as part cool, inscrutable cypher and part damsel-in-distress and Joe Pantoliano's Teddy is a fast-talker who seems to pop up everywhere Leonard happens to be. In both cases, you never quite know whether Leonard should trust either of them.

© Copyright 2004 Avatar Review.