I rate this very high on my scale, primarily for its ambition and intellect.
Usually I get annoyed at IMDB comments that report the story as if it were important, but it is here:
—Lenny’s home is attacked, wife raped, him injured. He develops this `condition’ which has no physical cause. In other words, the condition is invented. The insurance investigator (Sammy Jankins), uncovers him as a fraud by using electrified test blocks. Knowing this, his wife challenges him and he `accidentally’ kills her rather than face the condition. Sent to a hospital, he escapes and ties up with the cop who investigated the case. Together, they track down the petty crook and kill him. Over time, the condition becomes more pronounced and embedded. The cop (Teddy) is crooked and exploits Lenny in a doublecross drug deal, getting him to kill Jimmy. Jimmy’s girlfriend Natalie also manipulates Lenny to first chase off Dodd (who is looking for the missing money). Lenny decides to get even with Teddy, so plants a seed that he will use later to justify killing Teddy.
—It is essential to know that Lenny was never an insurance investigator, and that his condition is self-delusional. The order and ritual is not to cope with, but to create the condition. Remembering his wife increases the intensity behind the psychosis — remembering his investigator gives him identity and focus in refining the condition — knowing all this transforms the idea behind the film into something of genius.
That’s because it is deeply self-referential: us looking at a film, especially at a mystery, is just the same as looking at a few polaroids and trying to create/remember a past. Watching movies is self-delusional, and with detective stories it is a game of wits between viewer and writer to outwit and manipulate each other just as here between Lenny and Teddy. (The filmmaker calls us, we shouldn’t answer, but we forget.) This film goes further. An actor forms the picture by putting words on it; in the case of acting, the `picture’ is the body, so it makes sense for the clue/words to appear on his body.
The combination of the three (words on skin, remembrances of images past, the mind duel with the writer) adds up to a pretty mind-expanding framework. That alone transports the intelligent viewer to another world, a shocking world of self. This makes the film important, and an important film deserves criticism.
So what could be better?
The ink on skin as referential of film acting was done so much more elegantly and deeply with `Pillow Book.’ The playing with time was moderately clever compared to the other, deeper games in this film — but it could have been much more challenging. It could have stuttered (`Limey’) could have folded (`Pulp Fiction’) could have paralleled (`Run Lola Run’) could have spiralled deeper (`Snake Eyes’). Maybe in the next film.
I did not think the eye of the camera was very clever. This had `noirish’ writing but not filming. More like the later `DOA’ in the black and white would have really spun. The dialog and plot were needlessly simple. If I am going to go to the trouble to displace my mind for a day or two, I want it shifted beyond Jupiter. That the story was so simple was pandering to the dumb masses and annoyed.
But the biggest flaw was our friend Guy. Moss is not a real actress. Guy is, but he’s of the rather simple kind, who thinks he plays a character. Consider what this film is: it is a film about films first, and within that we have a character inventing another character and reality. That’s three roles in one. Woody Allen made a similar movie so far as this matter: `Sweet and Lowdown.’ It was a fake documentary about a guy who created a stage persona which he subsequently adopted. Simple stuff plotwise compared to `Memento.’ But it had Sean Penn. Watch Sean play three roles at once, weaving them into a complex multidimensional space. This film was intelligent enough in its conception to warrant such texture, to have the actor remind us that we are him and he isn’t.