a film by Christopher Nolan

We go through our lives without any knowledge of what's going to happen in the next instant. Oh, sure, we often have a good idea of what's around the bend; experience, routine, and the a priori categories of space, time and cause-and-effect help us negotiate the ceaseless flow of moments. .

But anything could happen up ahead. Our only reliable map of the river of time is the one burned into our board as memories of the past. The formation of those memories is a complex, multi-step process involving several areas of the brain. One of the most important is the hippocampus, which pulls in new experiences as short-term memories, processes them, and decides whether or not they should become permanent memories. When certain parts of this structure are damaged, as in stroke or trauma, the ability to form new memories is lost forever. The victim lives in a ceaseless flow of disconnected moments, unable to recall what he was doing an hour or even five minutes ago. His most recent memories may be months or even years old--recollections of the moments before his injury. .

For Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), those memories are of the brutal rape and murder of his wife. How long ago did it happen? We don't know. Leonard doesn't know. All he knows is that the last thing he remembers is the life draining out of his wife's eyes. He doesn't even remember that he's been on a quest to find and punish her killer since that moment.

That's okay, though, because every time he looks in the mirror or down at his body, he's reminded. Leonard's covered with tatoos, reminders that She Is Gone, or that John M. Raped and Murdered Your Wife. Written in his flesh are solid clues and leads he's managed to sift out of the flow of disconnected moments. He carries a stack of annotated photographs like a deck of trumps, to remind him where he's staying, what his car looks like, and who his friends and enemies are.

Most of us can't imagine how we could just get by in Leonard's condition. But to solve a murder? To their great credit, the makers or Memento have made the enormity of Leonard's predicament palpable, by adopting a reverse-chronology narrative. Like Leonard, we don't know what happened a moment ago. That's because the movie opens with the ending, and works its way back to a shattering beginning. Director Christopher Nolan has taken away the viewer's temporal map, setting him adrift on the ocean of time.

This approach could easily have been a disaster, but Nolan makes it work, beautifully. Guy Pearce, as Leonard, gives a terrific performance, and Joe Pantoliano and Carrie-Anne Moss, as Steve's major confederates, manage to be fully fleshed and ambiguous at the same time. The film has a gritty noir atmosphere, and the absence of a temporal anchor keeps the tension at a high level. Sometimes, in service of the story, Leonard's memory seems to work a little better than others. I suspect that on repeated viewings any number of discontinuities will become apparent. But we don't care about that, because Memento is so well-made and well-played, based on such an outlandish and original premise, and so packed with tension and mystery that we're hypnotized, waiting eagerly for a resolution that is also a beginning. .

Richard Kimble meets The Horn of Ammon. Sullydog approves.

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