A film destined to be regarded as an early twenty-first century masterpiece in years to come has been given an excellent DVD package with some thoughtful and atmospheric extras. Fans might want to wait for the Region 1 release, which is slated to have a Chris Nolan commentary, but for those that cannot wait, this Region 2 version is more than enough to warrant featuring in your collection.
Trailer: A thrilling trailer that helped ensure that Memento was a highly anticipated film before its release.
Memento Mori: Presented as Text-on-screen, this is the original short story written by Chris Nolan's brother Jonathan of which the film was based on. The story is different enough to warrant reading in its own right, and is gripping despite its relative short length. Even in embryonic form, the story of Memento clearly had potential.
Tattoo Gallery: An inspired extra, showcasing the numerous tattoos that litter Lenny's body in the film, with photo illustrations or original sketched illustrations. This is an extra designed solely for the plot obsessives who like to play detective and delve into the mysteries of Memento.
Shooting Script: An excellent complete version of the final shooting script of the film, presented in 'STILL IMAGE' style, and featuring numerous doodles, trimmed scenes and coffee stains, which suggests it to be the genuine article. There is also an option to occasionally jump straight to the relevant sequence in the film, which is a nice option to have.
Biographies: Brief biographies of the main stars of the film and the director Chris Nolan, presented in a different-than-usual way in the form of driver's licences.
Website: An almost carbon copy of the website hosted at otnemem.com, which is superb and gripping to trawl through, as it contains many of the reports, clues, notes and photos that Lenny uses on his quest for vengeance. Not only do they feel realistic, but also they actively help establish some background elements for the film, coupled with the eerily moody music score looming over proceedings.
Interview: An Independent Focus interview, hosted by quirky Elvis Mitchell and featuring writer/director Chris Nolan talking about his views on Memento. This interview lasts for twenty-three minutes and is more interesting than most due to its lack of reliance on marketing fluff and interesting questions raised.
The Beginning Of The End - Hidden Feature: This is the extra that all Memento fans have been waiting for - the ability to watch the film front-to-back, in complete chronological order. The first question you may be asking is whether the film works structurally in this style, and the answer is yes. Some of the scenes repeat on themselves occasionally, and there are some split second fade transitions between some scenes that should run cohesively into the other, but on the whole, this is like having two films in one. As a straightforward narrative, the heroic status of Lenny is destroyed almost immediately, and the film becomes premeditatedly painful to watch, since the twists are revealed right from the start, and the audience has to sit through the whole film knowing the awful conclusion. What's ironic is that the characters of Lenny, Teddy and Natalie are all reversed in nature in the film, and the audience has a firmer understanding of who to trust. Despite the worthiness of this extra, one cannot help but wonder if the film would have been such a success had Chris Nolan opted for a more conventional narrative approach. To access this hidden feature, let the special features menu spiral through all of the choices until you reach a picture of Lenny's chest, and press SELECT before the menu resets.
Packaging: The usual Fox Pathé amaray release, with a transparent casing revealing the chapter listings printed on the reverse of the cover insert.
Menu: An intriguing menu, which relies on negative colour treatments of the clips embodied into it, and practically hides all of the options. When accessing the special features, the menu is a rotating Polaroid picture of the same picture of the same picture etc. (much like the film's poster artwork) and each Polaroid has a different option, such as Trailer, Interview etc. However, just like the film, what is written does not necessarily suggests what is actually behind that option, and the menu deliberately and randomly selects other features to the one the viewer has chosen. Yes, it is slightly annoying at times, but it is splendidly in keeping with the film and its postmodern core.
Presented in Dolby 5.1, the film is surprisingly devoid of large action sequences that you would normally associate with a thriller, thus the sound mix is mostly given a good 2.0 surround treatment with occasional use of the full five channels. This is probably why a DTS track has been omitted, since there really is no need for one.
Because of the moody noir style of the film, and the relatively cheap budget, the picture quality is very fine but not outstanding. Presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen, the colours are slightly washed out and the overall look is quite gloomy (intended of course). However, the transfer is still very good with only a few minor dirt elements occurring.
Lenny Shelby (Guy Pearce) is ruthless and determined in his quest for vengeance. His wife was brutally raped and murdered in their home by intruders, and Lenny suffered severe head injuries. This household attack caused Lenny to develop a brain condition known as Anterograde Amnesia which is essentially the inability to form new memories. Lenny can remember everything that happened before the incident, but is unable to mentally store any event that has happened since. Obviously, this has limitations on the way Lenny can live from day to day. By an organised and efficient system involving hand-written clues and tattoos (which are permanent and text driven in order to provide Lenny basic clues with regards to who he actually is), Lenny overcomes his disorder as effectively he can. However, Lenny is out to find the killers of his wife, and will not stop until he has succeeded in causing their deaths. With the help of a kind-hearted/untrustworthy (you decide) cop named Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) and a barmaid named Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss), Lenny pieces together the thin shreds of information required to find his wife's murderers.
Plot-wise, the film is the typical amnesia (or derivative) thriller, but this is certainly not the film's strongpoint. What makes Memento so interesting as a thriller is that the film is told in reverse. The easiest way to explain this concept is to imagine reading a book with the last chapter first and the first chapter last. Each scene is presented correctly, but is followed by a scene that occurred chronologically before it. Not only does this effectively generate the sense of Lenny's disorder to the audience, but it is also utterly compelling to anyone bored of the conventional thriller movie. Often inaccurately described as non-linear, the plot is very much linear, though told in a sort of zig-zag reverse (kind of like a one step forward two steps back approach). Therefore, the audience is given all of the answers to the film without knowing any of the questions. Memento certainly isn't a lazy film (and isn't the first to employ this structuring device, as Harold Pinter used it for Betrayal); to appreciate it will require perceptive and intelligent work from the audience, but it is an excellent exercise in how a film's structuring can affect its overall quality.
Memento was written and directed by Englishman Christopher Nolan, who had based his film on a short story titled Memento Mori written by his brother Jonathan. Nolan had acquired the financing for the film off the back of his 1998 obscure debut feature Following, and Memento was released in the UK much earlier than the US. By the time the film hit the States, word-of-mouth had spread and the film was highly anticipated. Nolan has now become the director all celebrity stars want to work with, and is now shooting a remake of the 1997 Erik Skjoldbjærg film Insomnia, set to star Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank.
The excellent cast features the emerging Guy Pearce (L.A. Confidential, Ravenous) Joe Pantoliano (The Fugitive, The Matrix) and Carrie Anne-Moss (also of The Matrix). Guy Peace provides an interesting performance as Lenny, in that because of his condition his character is emotional hollow, and would usually be difficult for the audience to relate to. Because of the likeable charm of Guy Pearce and the honourable quest for his wife's vengeance, the audience still takes a shine to Pearce. Joe Pantoliano as Teddy is also excellent, since he manages to effectively place the audience in a permanent state of confusion concerning the origins of his moral core. It is as if the audience cannot help but like Teddy, and yet cannot help but feel immediate distrust for him.
Debates rage as to what the film is actually trying to convey to the audience. Critics argued that if Lenny had short-term memory loss how does he know he has this condition, since he leaves no clue or has no tattoo that informs him of it. Without giving anything away of the plot, the film certainly carries an alternative argument that explains why this is the case. If anything, Memento proves that people such as Lenny trust anything as long as it has been written down. What the film also shows us, is that not only do we automatically trust narrators, but we also take as gospel anything the film throws at us, without questioning its authenticity.
The opening scene of the film is sensually excellent, showing a newly taken Polaroid photo fading into white as opposed to starting to develop, and yet this sequence suggests the underlying postmodernist problem for Lenny. He has lost his placement in time and space, and cannot even remember how long ago it was that his wife was killed. Because Lenny is lost, so is the audience unsure about the chronological placing of some of the black and white flashback sequences.
Certain critics have also argued that Chris Nolan employs the gimmick of a reverse narrative in Memento because the material would be lacking if told in a conventional narrative. It is doubtless that the choice of narrative structure is a gimmick, but it is hard to argue that the film would have effectively conveyed the sense of Lenny's reliance on clues from the past had it have been told in a straightforward sense.
Memento is an exceptional film that conjures up a whole new array of senses when watching it. It's masterfully written and directed by Christopher Nolan, and features excellent performances from a cast whose character origins shift smoothly during the film. There's a certain feeling about Memento that suggests a multitude of different books will have been written on it in a few years time. You also sense that it will co-exist alongside popular favourites such as The Usual Suspects, The Shawshank Redemption and Goodfellas on the varying Channel Four Top Ten Lists programmes that are being recycled every year.