‘You lie to yourself to be happy…who cares if there’s a few details you’d rather not remember?’ concludes Leonard (Guy Pearce) in Christopher Nolan’s stunning thriller Memento, adapted from a short story by his brother Jonathan, Memento Mori. Adapted to some degree; while the text story certainly has the kernel of the narrative here, there’s also a vigorous opening out of the narrative that made Mememto such a blast in 2000, and it’s really not aged a day on this steelbook blu-ray release from 101 Films Black Label in 2023. Take a deep breath, because Memento is one of the most demanding movies ever made, not because it’s shocking or harrowing, but Nolan is asking a huge amount of the viewer, who has to piece together a complex, deceptive narrative much as Leonard does, often dropped into confusing scene after scene with no idea how he, or we, got there.
We start with a Polaroid developing, or possibly not; the film is reversed, as is the brief act of violence that follows, as Leonard shoots Teddy (Joe Pantolino) at point blank range. ‘Don’t believe his lies’ is what’s written under the picture of Teddy in Leonard’s collection of Polaroid snaps he keeps in his beige suit pocket as index cards to guide him through the scummy edges of Californian society, but if he can’t trust Teddy’s lies, whose lies can Leonard trust? It doesn’t matter how ‘religiously’ Leonard reads the Bible in his hotel room, he’s being gas-lit left right and centre, by Teddy, or perhaps by the mysterious Dodd (Callum Keith Rennie), or even the sympathetic Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss), whose index card ambiguously reads ‘She will help you out of pity’
‘You know what you want to do, but you can’t remember what you just did?’ is how someone sums up the dangerous flaw in Leonard’s short-terms memory condition; Leonard claims to remember everything up until the murder of his wife, and seeks revenge, but reality seems to be splintering before Leonard’s eyes. ‘Just because there’s things I don’t remember doesn’t mean my actions are meaningless,’ Leonard complains, but his existential drama is on-going, and leaves him open to external exploitation.
A neo-noir thriller, Memento has a potent idea at its core; that someone with no conscience or recall would be a perfect murder weapon. Memento’s story famously works backwards, but the parallel black and white hotel room flashback structure works forwards, and there’s also a separate story that Leonard tells to explain his condition. Sammy Jankis (Stephen Tobolowsky) was a client that Leonard claimed to have met while working in the insurance business. Similarly unable to make new memories, Jankis was subjected to a conditioning experiment, but struggled to develop the instinct required to remember which test objects he touched had been electrified for test purposes, ‘We turned down his claim on the basis that it wasn’t mental illness…’ but is Leonard talking about Jankis, or about himself? Nolan deliberately mixes this notion up with a fleeting shot of Leonard in place of Jankis in an old folks home.
Blurred photographs, post it notes and tattoos give Leonard information, but how much can be trusted? Even played the right way round, as this blu-ray package allows, Memento has plenty of jet black humour, from Leonard being asked ‘Can I have my shirt back?’ by Natalie after they sleep together, Teddy blithely dismissing the sound of a kidnapped hostage as the lovemaking of ‘amorous neighbours’ and Leonard commenting on his own situations.. ‘I don’t feel drunk …’ he says as he looks at a bottle of alcohol he finds in a hotel toilet, but a foot chase proves more evasive at first glance. ‘What am I doing? I’m chasing this guy…No, wait, he’s chasing me!’
‘You can’t bully someone into remembering,’ is a mantra mentioned here, but Leonard can and will be bullied; he’s just not sure who it is that’s bullying him, and we don’t know either. In the fake news era, when sources are no longer trusted and manipulation is the norm, Memento was way ahead of its time in predicating the consequences of such malicious, conspiracy-based malfeasance. Nolan repeated these tropes in this year’s Oppenheimer, the notion of the hidden betrayal from a supposed friend, but Memento captures the idea in a pure form, remaining one of cinema’s most ornate puzzle-boxes, and probably the film most suited to multiple re-watches on this swanky new blu-ray, the bells and whistles are detailed below.
Limited Edition contents:
- Rigid box packaging
- Booklet one: Remembrance of things past: time and memory in Christopher Nolan’s Memento by James
- Booklet two: Jonathan Nolan’s Memento Mori short story
- Replica Polaroid art cards, printed notes and beer mat enclosed in Leonard’s folder
- Bonus second disc featuring the chronological edit (SD)
Brand new special features:
- Remember – Actor Carrie-Anne Moss on Memento
- Keepsake – Director Christopher Nolan on Memento
- Memento Mori – Writer Jonathan Nolan on Memento
- Memories – Producer Emma Thomas on Memento
- A Leap into the Unknown – Producer Aaron Ryder on Memento
- Musical Memories – Composer David Julyan on Memento
- Commentary with film critics James Mottram and Sean Hogan
- Memento chronological cut
- Remembering Memento
- Anatomy of a Scene
- IFC Interview with Christopher Nolan
- Director’s commentary