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Point blank in the head a man shoots another. In flashbacks, each one earlier in time than what we've just seen, the two men's past unfolds. Leonard, as a result of a blow to the head during an assault on his wife, has no short-term memory. He's looking for his wife's killer, compensating for his disability by taking Polaroids, annotating them, and tattooing important facts on his body. We meet the loquacious Teddy and the seductive Natalie (a barmaid who promises to help), and we glimpse Leonard's wife through memories from before the assault. Leonard also talks about Sammy Jankis, a man he knew with a similar condition. Has Leonard found the killer? What's going on?
For more about Memento and the Memento Blu-ray release, see Memento Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on February 12, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Mark Boone Junior, Stephen Tobolowsky, Thomas Lennon (III)
Narrator: Guy Pearce
Director: Christopher Nolan
» See full cast & crew
Memento Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, February 12, 2011
Christopher Nolan is one of the current "It" directors in Hollywood, and his latest release Inception is widely cited as one of the most innovative films of the past several years. It may be sacrilege, but as much as I enjoyed Inception (and I did enjoy it immensely), I just don't buy into the idea that it is, in one oft-repeated pull quote, a "game changer." We'd previously seen ideas very similar to Inception in a host of films, not the least of which were the Matrix movies. For a really innovative and game changing Nolan feature, you'd be hard pressed to find anything which tops Memento, the brilliant, mind bending 2000 film which put Nolan on the map and paved the way for a string of challenging and highly entertaining films which include everything from The Prestige to the rebooted Batman franchise. Memento is a deliberately obscure piece, one which forces the viewer into the sort of disequilibrium which its hero, Leonard (Guy Pearce), is experiencing due to his anterograde amnesia. Nolan, adapting his brother Jonathan's short story "Memento Mori," weaves an intensely convoluted structure, with two alternating timelines and one of those timelines playing out in reverse. Memento is in fact so structurally complex that near doctoral theses have been written about it, positing the difference between sujet (the actual architecture of how the film is presented) and fabula (the story in chronological order). It would actually be a little funny, at least for those of us who look at the frequently hyperintellectualism of (ahem) film critics with a jaundiced eye, if it weren't for the fact that Memento actually deserves and in fact probably requires this kind of intense scrutiny in order to fully understand how its medium is very much a part of its message.
Memento's inventive title sequences immediately clues the viewer in that a remarkable film journey is about to unfold, or perhaps more accurate, fold, since everything in the credits segments plays out backwards. We start with the after effects of a gunshot, and then travel back in time as the killer's photograph of the event un-develops and magically pops back in the camera, accompanied by the flashbulb erupting. What's going on? Nolan, certainly one of the most erudite and articulate directors out there, has viscerally oriented the viewer to Memento's bracing vocabulary, where we are going to move slowly backwards in time from denouement to setup. And once we understand that this isn't a mere gimmick (though of course it is), that it's actually a very apt representation of Leonard's inability to hold onto any short term memory, it makes the film an experiential voyage like few others in recent, and indeed perhaps more than recent, cinema history.
Is there anything more subjective than memory? Where does memory reside and what exactly does it offer us as individuals? Is it the anchor grounding us in our own personal time stream, or is it dead weight that keeps us in a self-dug rut? Memento offers a lead character bracingly free of both the constraints and the identity which memory provides for every human being. Leonard is adrift in an experiential sea where he's never sure what's happening or in fact why he's doing what he's doing. His body is covered with tattoos with which he's inscribed himself in order to help keep on track, and he writes copious notes for himself which he finds in various nooks and crannies. But what exactly is going on?
It's part of Memento's immense appeal and almost mythical allure that the viewer, like Leonard, is never sure, even after the puzzle pieces have been put together, retrograde style, by the end of the film. Memento is in fact one of the most purposefully ambiguous movies in recent (ahem) memory, and Nolan delights in never completely wrapping things up with a pretty and/or bloody little bow. All that we really know is that Leonard has killed his tagalong Teddy (Joe Pantoliano), whom Leonard has come to believe was involved in the rape and murder of Leonard's wife (Jorja Fox, in flashbacks). Led on by a perhaps duplicitous bartender named Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss), Leonard is a free agent in every sense of the word, a wisp of vengeful smoke blown hither and yon by competing yarns he's told and perhaps even by his own misperceptions of what has happened and is continuing to happen to him.
Against the segments that play out in reverse, Nolan intercuts a relatively straightforward set of chronological vignettes in black and white (which instantly separates them from the main color retrograde elements) where Leonard gleaning information on the phone from his hotel room. The two elements finally merge toward the end of the film, but it's Memento's crowning glory that in a final twist of fate, we're not quite sure things are as Leonard thinks they are, and the film's climax is a gut wrenching moment of uncertainty and questioning. Has Leonard finally avenged the killing of his wife? Or has he simply made himself a pawn in his own convoluted, self-constructed chess game? It's possible to come to either conclusion, or in fact both simultaneously. Rarely has a film exploited audience disequilibrium so effectively.
Memento is one of the few films where style and substance commingle brilliantly, much like (forgive me) sujet and fabula. Nolan has proven himself in subsequent films that very rare helmsman who is able to present often baroquely labyrinthine stories with impeccable flair and panache. But Nolan never lets his own virtuosity, which is inarguable, get in the way of the film's story and message, whether that be the memory impairment at the heart of Memento, the dueling magicians in The Prestige, or The Dark Knight's superhero exploits in the two Batman movies thus far released. Nolan never lets his formidable directorial craft overshadow the actual film, which is a rare commodity in the ego-drenched world of filmmaking. Memento may easily be one of the most thought-provoking films of the past several years, but it's also one of the most entertaining. That's a one-two punch that is, to put it simply, unforgettable.
Memento Blu-ray, Video Quality
For once a film's second Blu-ray release represents a significant upgrade instead of a tired retread with different packaging. Sony released its Blu-ray of Memento very early in the format, and while that BD certainly looked better than the SD-DVD, it was an often dark and soft looking transfer. This new Lionsgate release is heads and shoulders above the Sony release, delivered via an AVC codec in 1080p and 2.35:1. Not only is the image noticeably sharper and better defined, with wonderful levels of fine detail, contrast and especially color and saturation are much better and more clearly defined. Depth of field is also much clearer in this presentation, with Nolan's deep focus shots working beautifully. The black and white segments still are saddled with their intentionally overblown contrast and fuzzy graininess, but even those sequences are more vibrant and clear on this new BD. The color segments are like a completely different film than the Sony BD at times, with a crispness and clarity that shows how far Blu-ray technology has come in just a few short years. There are still a few niggling and negligible artifacting issues which prevent this from getting a perfect score, namely some noticeable if very brief shimmer on some textures (strangely, Nolan's The Dark Knight, itself a stellar BD release, suffered from this same anomaly). Otherwise, this is a great looking BD and certainly much better than the first BD release.
Memento Blu-ray, Audio Quality
While perhaps not as noticeable as the image quality upgrade, the new BD's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack offers a really sharp and boisterous mix which is especially robust on the low end. The Sony BD did in fact offer an uncompressed LPCM track, so there really wasn't anything to complain about with regard to that release. Similarly, this BD features a sparklingly clear and well detailed track that may not have nonstop immersion, but which offers discrete channelization quite a bit of the time (pay attention during the chase scene about two thirds of the way through the film for a good example). Dialogue is clear and well mixed and the sound effects are penetrating and very well presented.
Memento Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
While this new Blu-ray doesn't offer the kind of cool "chronological" option of the Special Edition DVD, it does have both new and returning supplements:
Memento Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Nolan has been crafting "game changers" long before Inception, as Memento rather conclusively proves. This is one of the most challenging films of at least the last decade, bracing in both its architecture and the implications of its purposefully ambiguous plot. Virtually pitch perfect in every way, with a unique and very engaging marriage of style and substance, the film finally has Blu-ray release worthy of its impressive pedigree. Very highly recommended.
Memento: Other Editions
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• Memento to Screen in Theaters Ahead of 10th Anniversary Blu-ray - February 10, 2011
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• The Last Unicorn, Memento 10th Anniversary Blu-ray Announced - December 2, 2010
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