Also play on Twitter!

Memento (2000)

Err... I forgot — Written by Asmodai on 25.09.2010

Facts & Figures
* Title: Memento
* IMDB rating at time of writing: 8.7
* Year: 2000
* Length: 113 minutes
* Country: United States
* Director: Christopher Nolan
* Producer: Jennifer Todd, Suzanne Todd
* Writers: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan
* Cinematography: Wally Pfister
* Music: David Julyan
* Cast: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Stephen Tobolowsky, Harriet Sansom Harris, Jorja Fox

Plot summary (Spoiler alert!)

Because of the non-linear storytelling of this film, I will summarize per scene. This movie alternates between black and white scenes that go forward in time, from the past to the center of the movie, and colored scenes that start at the ending of the story and go back to the center of the movie. This way the whole movie is told, just in a different order.

1. This scene runs backwards altogether, starting with a man looking at a polaroid of a bloody room, followed by bullet casings getting into his gun and ends with him shooting his victim in the head.
2. A man wakes up in a hotel room he does not recognize, and tries to figure out where he is and why he’s there.
3. The man, who is named Leonard, is picked up from his hotel by a guy with glasses. We learn that Leonard has a handicap with his memory, but what exactly is still unclear. They drive to a building, but Leonard has forgotten why, but during the drive Leonard notices that the window of his car is broken. When they arrive at the building, they find an abandoned car next to it. Inside the building Leonard finds a polaroid of the man with glasses, apparently named Teddy, in his jacket, saying that “He is the one. Kill him”. The scene ends with Leonard shooting Teddy in the head, which is also the first/last shot of scene number one.
4. Leonard goes through the hotel room, and notices a tattoo on his wrist, telling him to remember Sammy Jankis, who apparently had the same problem but no system to make it work. Leonard also sees a piece of paper stuck to his leg, telling him to shave his thigh.
5. Leonard writes the text on the polaroid, telling himself to kill Teddy. He gets a gun and leaves his motel room, but stops at the lobby where he explains his condition to the man at the desk (and to the audience). He suffers from a condition which prevents him from making new memories, causing him to have a short-term memory of mere minutes, after which he forgets everything. He leaves the motel with Teddy, as in scene 3.
6. Leonard walks through his hotel room, while his voice-over explains how he makes his condition workable using notes, but for important information tattoos might work better. The phone rings and Leonard picks up.
7. Leonard comes from a bathroom and finds himself in a diner, which he leaves with keys, a picture of a motel-sign and an envelope. He drives to the motel on the picture, the Discount Inn, and enters a room. In the room, one wall is covered with notes and pictures. The envelope, which reads “To Leonard, from Natalie” is opened, and contains a copy of Teddy’s drivers license, but the name on it is John Edward Gammell. The polaroid of Teddy says “Don’t believe his lies.”. Leonard calls the phone number on the picture, and Teddy answers to tell him he’ll be right over. Leonard undresses for a shower and the audience sees his body is covered in tattoos, containing “Facts”. These facts apparently describe a white man, first name John or James, last name starting with G, who is a drugs dealer with a certain license plate. Leonard confirms that this information is about Teddy, and writes on his polaroid to kill Teddy.
8. Leonard is on the phone and starts to tell us about Sammy, when he looks in the mirror the audience sees a tattoo saying “John G. raped and murdered my wife.”.
9. Leonard enters the diner and talks to a woman named Natalie, who has a black eye and a split lip, where is he handed the envelope. The conversation starts to be about Leonard’s wife, and we see a flashback of her.
10. The phone conversation continues, in which Leonard tells us he used to work for an insurance agency, checking to see if claims were valid. This is where he met Sammy, as his first big challenge.
11. Leonard wants to start a car, but is stopped by Teddy, who buys him lunch and they talk about how reliable memories are. Lenny gets back to his motel, where he discovers that he is being ripped off by the manager, who managed to rent him two different rooms (since he’d forget anyways). Leonard finds a note in his pocket, telling him to meet Natalie for information, causing him to drive to the diner.
12. The story goes on about Sammy, who got into a car accident and got the same condition as Leonard: he’d forget any new information within minutes. The insurance sends in Leonard, to discover is Sammy is faking it or if the insurance has to pay up. We are also introduced to Sammy’s wife, who suffers from diabetes and needs regular insulin shots from Sammy.
13. Leonard wakes up in a strange bed next to a woman, in which we recognize Natalie. The scene ends with a conversation on memories, and Natalie kissing Lenny, after which Leonard leaves and enters his car.
14. Leonard tests Sammy’s response to conditioning, which should work if the problem was physical, unfortunately Sammy fails the test.
15. Natalie opens the door to Leonard, who is clearly angry and shows a picture of a bloody guy called Dodd. Natalie explains how Dodd was her problem and how Leonard offered to help. Leonard explains the difference between remembering and knowing things, and the couple ends up in bed together.
16. Because conditioning didn’t work on Sammy, he also couldn’t get a system to make his problem bearable, like Leonard has.
17. Leonard wakes in a motel room and discovers a gun in the bedside drawer and a bloodied guy in the closet (Dodd). Teddy shows up and helps with dumping Dodd outside the city, telling him to never come back.
18. Sammy’s wife is shown getting more desperate to help the poor guy with his problem.
19. Leonard is sitting in a bathroom, with a bottle of whiskey, but he doesn’t feel drunk. He gets under the shower and finds a strange man in the room, which he hits with the bottle and puts in the closet. He calls Teddy to come help him.
20. Leonard ends the conversation on the phone, and is shown building a needle to tattoo himself with.
21. Leonard is running, being followed by some guy shooting at him. He gets in the car and escapes, but finds a note in the car with Dodd’s address, where he goes and ambushes some poor guy because he got the wrong house number. After this mistake he finds the right room, enters and hides in the shower with a bottle of whiskey as a weapon.
22. Using the home-made needle, Leonard tattoos fact nr. 5 on his leg: Has access to drugs.
23. It is dawn and Leonard drives off from some abandoned industry park, visibly tired. He is stopped by a man, who threatens him with a gun, shoots the window of his car and runs off after Leonard.
24. The phone rings again.
25. At night, Leonard drives to an abandoned area, builds a fire and is shown burning memorabilia of his wife, trying to get more memories of her. He wonders how much times he tried this before.
26. The mysterious person on the phone tells Leonard something about drugs, which helps in his investigation.
27. Leonard wakes up to find a woman doing drugs in his toilet, he kicks her out, gets some items from around the room and walks to his car.
28. More discussion about drugs and Leonard concludes that the murderer is a drug dealer.
29. Leonard is shown ordering a callgirl, who is ordered to wait until he is asleep, smash the door loud enough to wake him up and spread some random items round the room.
30. We are told how Sammy’s wife meets Leonard, asking for help to solve his condition, but she only hears that his condition is emotional, not physical.
31. Teddy tells Leonard not to trust Natalie, but Leonard uses a different handwriting than his usual one. When Teddy leaves again, Leonard crosses out the warning and reads Teddy’s polaroid which tells him not to believe his lies.
32. Leonard’s next tattoo says never to answer the phone, he becomes suspicious and ends the conversation.
33. Leonard is frantically looking for a pen to write something down, when Natalie walks in with a busted lip and a black eye, telling Leonard Dodd did it because of Teddy.
34. The phone rings, but Leonard won’t pick up and leaves orders at the front desk to not put through any more calls.
35. Natalie gets in, angry and it gets clear that she is only using Leonard to get rid off Dodd. She keeps insulting him, until he slaps her around. After this she walks out, but since she hid all pens before she came in, Leonard can’t write it down in time to forget this happened.
36. The desk clerk shows up, telling Leonard that a cop is calling.
37. Natalie invites Leonard in, and Leonard tells us how he woke up to find his wife getting raped by two men. He shoots one, but the other manages to bash his head in and run off. The police didn’t believe there was a second guy and he has been looking for him since.
38. A note is pushed under the door, telling Leonard to answer the phone. Together with it comes a picture of him, covered in blood, but smiling.
39. Natalie, working as a barmaid, gives Leonard a beer on the house. They talk about his condition, and she offers him a fresh beer.
40. Leonard finally picks up, but he is clearly stressed and demands to know who it is and why he’s calling.
41. Our guy enters a bar, where Natalie is working, who tells him that a cop called about him and his condition, she also asks about someone named Jimmy and Teddy. Natalie draws a beer, telling all people in the bar to spit in it, for luck, and sets it aside.
42. We hear that after Sammy’s wife talked to Leonard, she went home and told Sammy multiple times that it was time for her insulin shot, in the hope that he would remember she already had one. She never recovered.
43. Leonard has fact 6 tattood (a car licence number), when Teddy walks in telling him that he’s an informer for the police and warning that a drugsdealer named Jimmy is after him. Leonard drives to the bar, where he is stopped by Natalie who calls him Jimmy.
44. The conversation turned towards Jimmy (Jimmy G, from the tattoo), who apparently is a drugsdealer. Leonard and the cop on the phone say they’ll meet in the lobby, where Teddy shows up (who is apparently the cop in question). Leonard is given some directions, after which he gets in an old truck and drives to an abandoned building (the one from scene 3), where Jimmy arrives (in the car Leonard has been driving all through the movie). Leonard, believing Jimmy was his wife’s murderer, kills the man. The scene switches color, but goes on, indicating that we have reached the crossing of the storylines.
45. Leonard changes into Jimmy’s suit and hides the body, when Teddy walks in. Teddy explains that he has been helping Leonard for several times, looking for the real murderer first, which Leonard killed, but forgot. After this they have been hunting down the killer over and over again. He also tells that Leonard was the one who gave his wife the overdose of insulin, after her so-called “murder”, not Sammy. This causes Leonard to put “Don’t believe his lies” on Teddy’s polaroid and writing down Teddy’s licence plate, hoping he would hunt the liar down next time. Leonard gets in Jimmy’s Jaguar and drives off to a tattoo shop, ending the movie.

Plot Summary, chronological order (Still contains spoilers!)

A man wakes up in a hotel room he does not recognize, and tries to figure out where he is and why he’s there. He goes through the hotel room, and notices a tattoo on his wrist, telling him to remember Sammy Jankis, and he also sees a piece of paper stuck to his leg, telling him to shave his thigh. A voice-over explains how he makes his condition workable using notes, but for important information tattoos might work better. The phone rings and the man picks up and starts to tell us about someone named Sammy, but when he looks in the mirror the audience sees a tattoo saying “John G. raped and murdered my wife.”. The phone conversation continues, in which the man tells us he used to work for an insurance agency, checking to see if claims were valid. This is where he met Sammy, as his first big challenge. The story goes on about Sammy, who got into a car accident and got the same condition as Leonard: he’d forget any new information within minutes. The insurance sends in Leonard, to discover if Sammy is faking it or if the insurance has to pay up. We are also introduced to Sammy’s wife, who suffers from diabetes and needs regular insulin shots from Sammy. Leonard tests Sammy’s response to conditioning and the forming of reflexes, which should work if the problem was physical, but unfortunately he fails the test. Because conditioning didn’t work on Sammy, he also couldn’t get a system to make his problem bearable, like Leonard has. Sammy’s wife is shown getting more desperate to help the poor guy with his problem. Leonard ends the conversation on the phone, and is shown building a needle to tattoo himself with. Using the home-made needle, Leonard tattoos fact nr. 5 on his leg: Has access to drugs. The phone rings again and the mysterious person on the phone tells Leonard something about drugs, which helps in his investigation. Leonard concludes that the murderer is a drug dealer.
We are told how Sammy’s wife meets Leonard, asking for help to solve his condition, but she only hears that his condition is emotional, not physical.
Leonard’s next tattoo says never to answer the phone, he becomes suspicious and ends the conversation. The phone rings again, but Leonard won’t pick up and leaves orders at the front desk to not put through any more calls. The desk clerk shows up, telling Leonard that a cop is calling, but he still refuses the calls. A note is pushed under the door, telling Leonard to answer the phone, together with it comes a picture of him, covered in blood, but smiling.
Leonard finally picks up, but he is clearly stressed and demands to know who it is and why he’s calling. We hear that after Sammy’s wife talked to Leonard, she went home and told Sammy multiple times that it was time for her insulin shot, in the hope that he would remember she already had one. She never recovered.
The conversation turned towards Jimmy (Jimmy G, from the tattoo), who apparently is a drugsdealer. Leonard and the cop on the phone say they’ll meet in the lobby, where a guy with glasses shows up (who is apparently the cop in question, named Teddy). Leonard is given some directions, after which he gets in an old truck and drives to an abandoned building, where Jimmy arrives. Leonard, believing Jimmy was his wife’s murderer, kills the man after which he changes into Jimmy’s suit and hides the body, when the cop walks in. Teddy explains that he has been helping Leonard for several times, looking for the real murderer first, which Leonard killed but forgot all about. After this they have been hunting down the killer over and over again. He also tells that Leonard was the one who gave his wife the overdose of insulin, after the recovery of her so-called “murder”, not Sammy. This causes Leonard to put “Don’t believe his lies” on Teddy’s polaroid and writing down Teddy’s licence plate, hoping he would hunt the liar down next time. Leonard gets in Jimmy’s Jaguar and drives off to a tattoo shop.
Leonard has fact 6 tattood (a car licence number), when Teddy walks in telling him that he’s an informer for the police and warning that a drugsdealer named Jimmy is after him. Leonard drives to a bar, where he is stopped by a woman who calls him Jimmy. Our guy enters the bar, where the woman from before is working, who tells him that a cop called about him and his condition; She also asks about Jimmy and Teddy. The woman draws a beer, telling all people in the bar to spit in it, for luck, and sets it aside for a few minutes, after which she gives it to Leonard on the house, who drinks it. They talk about his condition, and she offers him a fresh beer. At her home, Natalie invites Leonard in, and Leonard tells us how he woke up to find his wife getting raped by two men. He shoots one, but the other manages to bash his head in and run off. The police didn’t believe there was a second guy and he has been looking for him since.
The next day, Natalie bursts in, angry and it becomes clear that she is only using Leonard to get rid off a guy called Dodd. She keeps insulting him, until he slaps her around. After this she walks out, but since she hid all pens before she came in, Leonard can’t write it down in time to forget this happened. He is still frantically looking for a pen to write something down, when Natalie walks back in with a busted lip and a black eye, telling Leonard Dodd did it because of Teddy. Leonard gets out and meets with Teddy, who tells him not to trust Natalie and to write this down, but Leonard uses a different handwriting than his usual one, to recognize fact from fiction. When Teddy leaves again, Leonard crosses out the warning and reads Teddy’s polaroid which tells him not to believe his lies.
At a motel, Leonard is shown ordering a callgirl, who is ordered to wait until he is asleep, smash the door loud enough to wake him up and spread some random items round the room. When she does this, Leonard wakes up to find a woman doing drugs in his toilet. He kicks her out, gets some items from around the room, walks to his car and drives to an abandoned area, where builds a fire and is shown burning memorabilia of his wife, trying to get more memories of her. He also wonders how much times he tried this before.
It is dawn and Leonard drives off, visibly tired. He is stopped by a man who threatens him with a gun, shoots the window of his car and runs off after Leonard, who after a brief chase manages to get in the car and escape, but finds a note in the car with the man’s (Dodd) description and address. He drives to the address, where he ambushes some poor guy because he got the wrong house number. After this epic and random failure, he finds the right room, enters and hides in the shower with a bottle of whiskey as a weapon. Forgetting why he is there, he gets under the shower and quickly discovers a strange man entering the room, who he hits with the bottle, gags and puts in the closet. He calls Teddy to come help him.
Leonard wakes up in the motel room and discovers a gun in the bedside drawer and a bloodied guy in the closet. Teddy shows up and helps with dumping Dodd outside the city, telling him to never come back.
Natalie opens the door to Leonard, who is clearly angry and who shows a picture of a bloody guy called Dodd. Natalie explains how Dodd was her problem and how Leonard offered to help. In a conversation, Leonard explains the difference between remembering and knowing things, and the couple end up in bed together.
Leonard wakes up in a strange bed next to a woman, in which we recognize Natalie. The scene ends with a conversation on memories, and Natalie kissing Lenny, after which Leonard leaves and enters his car, where he is stopped by Teddy, who buys him lunch and they talk about how reliable memories are. Leonard gets back to his motel, where he discovers that he is being ripped off by the manager, who managed to rent him two different rooms (since he’d forget anyways). Leonard finds a note in his pocket, telling him to meet Natalie in a diner, for information. Leonard enters the diner and talks to Natalie, where is he handed an envelope. The conversation moves to Leonard’s wife, and we see a flashback of her. After this Natalie leaves, Leonard goes to the bathroom and forgets.
Leonard comes from a bathroom and finds himself in a diner, which he leaves with keys, a picture of a motel-sign and an envelope. He drives to the motel on the picture, the Discount Inn, and enters a room where one wall is covered with notes and pictures. The envelope is opened, and contains a copy of Teddy’s drivers license, but the name on it is John Edward Gammell. Leonard calls the phone number on the picture of Teddy, who answers to tell him he’ll be right over. Looking over his tattoos with facts, Leonard confirms that this information is about Teddy, and writes on his polaroid to kill the guy. He gets a gun and leaves his motel room, but stops at the lobby where he explains his condition to the man at the desk. He suffers from a condition which prevents him from making new memories, causing him to have a short-term memory of mere minutes, after which he forgets everything. He leaves the motel with Teddy. They drive to a building, but Leonard has forgotten why. During the drive Leonard notices that the window of his car is broken. When they arrive at the building, they find an abandoned car next to it. Inside the building Leonard finds a polaroid of Teddy in his pocket, saying that “He is the one. Kill him”. The scene ends with Leonard shooting Teddy in the head.

Review

There is no denying it: the concept of Memento is great and it has been realized in an amazing way, the greatest part of it, however, also is the greatest flaw: the non-linear timeline. When you see this film for the first time, you have no idea what is happening, who this guy is and who wants to use him for what, which is a big piece of what makes this such a great film. When you see this movie again, all this will be gone and it has the potential for just being plain annoying.
Besides the playing with time, this movie is just another movie with ups and downs. Cinematography: great! I especially love the black and white parts, where the contrast is being used to great effect. The acting of most of the actors (besides Pearce) didn’t really surprise me; it was okay, but far from being great and amazing. Pearce himself, however, really pulled off the trick of convincing us that he has a memory problem, by not just acting but actually being confused at times. I don’t know how Nolan shot this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did it in order of the film, and gave Pearce only short pieces of the script, instead of the whole thing.
The storyline was good, especially because it uses the memory condition in the movie, making it more than a simple plot device. We all have seen this kind of ending before, where the SPOILER main SPOILER character SPOILER forgot SPOILER that SPOILER his SPOILER own SPOILER story SPOILER was SPOILER actualy SPOILER about SPOILER him END SPOILER, but that doesn’t make it bad, because in this case it works. I especially love how small details get explained later on, like the parked car next to the building at the beginning, or why certain notes appear on the polaroids. The great advantage of this kind of movie-making, is that you can see things happen, after which you can see why they happened. The downside is that it only really works to full effect the first time.
The portrayal of the memory condition has met with great professional acclaim, and apparently the condition really happens like the audience sees it: scenes of ten minutes with no idea what happened before, with some thoughts back to the past before the condition appeared.

Conclusions

Nolan did it again, he pulled off a great movie. This would have gotten 4½ or even 5 out of 5 stars, were it not that the greatness only lasts for the first watch, whenever you watch it for another time, the best part is already gone. Even then, though, it is still a masterpiece with great acting from Pearce, beautiful cinematography in the black and white parts and some entertaining moments.

Memento Reviews

Advertisement