FACT ONE: “Just because there are things I don’t remember doesn’t make my actions meaningless.”
FACT TWO: “Your notes could be unreliable.”
FACT THREE: “Memories can be distorted.”
FACT FOUR: “But, even if you get your revenge, you won’t remember it. You won’t even know it’s happened.”
FACT FIVE: “I want time to pass, but it won’t. How can I heal if I can’t feel time?”
FACT SIX: “We all need mirrors to remind ourselves who we are.”
When life becomes incomprehensible human beings tend to simplify things, revise memories, select facts that may or may not be representative of “the truth.” We strive to make events as intelligible as possible but that act often has unintended consequences. Now, if you can capture this existential human reality on film in such a way as to allow the viewer to experience this struggle for understanding, for the placement of private aspirations into the context of the moment even as the primary character makes this same struggle, then you have connected our hearts and minds seamlessly with the film’s lifeworld. That is a rarity indeed.
Such is Memento, a brilliantly conceived and executed work of art that has its audience literally at their wits end (just like the film’s main character) trying to understand it all. The great debate of whether Teddy’s version of the truth at the end is really “the truth” is symptomatic of director Christopher Nolan’s purposeful craftsmanship. The very fact that we are as uncertain throughout most of the film as to the context of Leonard Shelby’s actions as Leonard himself signifies that Nolan has succeeded in not just telling us Leonard’s story put allowing us to know what it is like to *be* Leonard. This allows the film to work at a much deeper, almost subconscious, level scarcely achieved on film.
Guy Pierce, Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano all deliver terrific performances with some of the most original material I’ve seen in years. This film grabs your brain and won’t let go. It twists and turns and ? just when you think you’ve got things figured out ? Nolan whips the rug out from under your feet. You are left totally involved and struggling with creating some sense of closure out of the infinite loop of the film’s structure.
You can debate endlessly whether Teddy’s final summary of events is the truth. You can argue both sides of whether Leonard killed his wife or invented Sammy Jankis out of thin air. In the end these are open questions. In the end there are no definitive answers. In fact, in the end ANY answer is plausible, just choose the one that sits best in your mind. Make that the truth. Because THAT is what this film is all about. It’s about a man who can remember who he is but not what he has done and, to that extend, it is the prefect postmodern critique. We are often forced to act without sufficient information. The accelerating rush of our lives sends us headlong into our present without full consideration of where we’ve been. And on that level Memento provides a bold, compelling narrative that connects Leonard with every person. It is the mirror image of our divided selves.
No matter how much his audience might disagree with the film’s conclusion, Nolan understands that – in the end – truth doesn’t matter. It is what we choose to do with what we think is the truth that’s important. And that can mean anything at all.