on July 20, 2002
--Quick plot synopsis: A psychological thriller about a man with short-term memory loss trying to track down his wife's killer. It does an excellent view of putting the viewer on the same level as the main character by showing the movie in reverse. ie. The first scene you see is the last one in the story.
--The folks at Columbia/Tristar really went all-out to bring the viewer into this movie. The menus alone give you a perspective on the story and main character not possible in the theater. This two-disc set gives you everything you'd expect from a special edition: director's commentary; trailers; production photos; mini documentary; 5.1 surround sound, etc. But wait, there's more... It's just hidden within the maze of questions in the psychological exam that makes up the menus on both discs. If you keep searching on disc two, you'll be able to watch the movie in chronological order, which is my reason for buying this special edition. (If they don't edit this out as a spoiler, just select the Clock form the main menu, choose answer "c" five times on the questions, then put the pictures of the woman fixing the flat tire in the order of 3,4,1,2.)
Brilliantly directed by Christopher Nolan, who also wrote the screenplay based on a short story by his brother, Jonathan Nolan, this film had to be a huge challenge for all. The word "memento" means "remember" in Latin, and the story is about Leonard, so traumatized by a blow to the head after his wife's rape and murder, that he has lost his short-term memory. He's out for revenge and is looking for the killer, but, although he remembers his life with his wife and who he is, he cannot remember anything that has happened since. He therefore takes Polaroid shots of everyone he meets and writes notes on them. And he also tattoos things he wants to remember all over his body. The role calls out for an exceptional actor and Guy Pearce certainly does rise to the occasion. I found myself drawn to him, identifying with his condition, and joining him in his struggle to relate to the world.
The story unfolds backwards, an unusual narrative technique that is tricky to use. We see a scene and think we understand. And then there is another scene that has happened prior to it, and it totally changes our perception of what is going on. Purposely, it is confusing. And purposely, there are moments of clarity where it all fits together only to become even more confusing in the next scene. Carrie Ann Moss plays a femme fatal and, as we get to know her, we are not quite sure what her motives are. Joe Pantolino is cast as in the role of Leonard's buddy, and we are constantly confused as to whether he is friend or foe.
I sat there fascinated as this complicated plot unfolded, enjoying the mastery in which the director led me down different avenues of thought and also introduced questions about the moral issues involved. By the end, I was absolutely sure of nothing at all, except that I had been traveling on a roller coaster of an experience that didn't have any easy answers. While I tend to want films to have a beginning, middle and end, and a story line that is easy to follow, this an exception to the rule. I definitely recommend to those who are willing to explore this unique film, which is certainly one of a kind.
on September 10, 2001
The only film that I can think of that comes even close to the ingenuity of Memento is The Usual Suspects. Like that way underappreciated classic, Memento gives you the ending immediately, and then spends the rest of its time showing you how it got there. Each scene offers clues and various revelations--Leonard's tattoos, why he writes what he does on Natalie's and Teddy's pictures, what happened to his wife, Leonard's job before "the incident"--each of which are thrilling mini-narratives in themselves.
The acting is first rate. Guy Pearce, best known as "the one who wasn't Russell Crowe in L.A. Confidential", is Leonard, a character who will intrigue you, engage your sympathy, and might even scare you by the end. Joe Pantoliano's Teddy will have you debating his intentions towards Leonard for days afterwards. The real acting coup, however, is fellow Matrix alum Carrie Anne Moss--her performace as Natalie will make you love her, hate her, and make you fiercely protective of her.
The movie can only be watched on DVD. Keep the remote handy as you'll want to pause every now and then, if only to read Leonard's tattoos for various clues. After watching the movie, be sure to check out Otnemem in the Special Features section for newspaper articles, pictures, journal entries, and psychiatric reports on Mementos intriguing characters. They will help confirm what you think happened in the movie. DVD also offers the playful option of choosing to watch the movie backwards (or would it be watching the movie forward?). You will definitely consider the option after watching the movie. I haven't done it yet, but I can't wait to see the effect that it has on the movie.
This movie is worth the critical hype. If you enjoyed movies like The Sixth Sense, The Matrix, The Usual Suspects, Seven, Fight Club, and Dark City (some of my personal faves), then Memento will be the crown of your DVD collection!
on August 12, 2002
This review will only deal with the features found on the "Memento Limited Edition 2 Disc Set", and not the merits of the movie proper.
My only qualm with this DVD edition is the packaging. Wrapped in a tight-fitting but flimsy cardboard box, designed to look like Leonard Shelby's case file, it's almost impossible to get the discs out on first try. I find that I have to open the back to push out the innards, which tends to warp the shape of the box. Found inside are several loose sheets of paper, which look like psychological tests, notes from the case history, and, as you will soon see, the DVD's on-screen menus. The whole thing is ostensibly held together by a little plastic paper clip, whose only real purpose, I've deduced, is to get lost behind my TV set.
The first thing one notices once Disc 1 of the DVD loads is a psychological test, asking the viewer to commit to memory a list of words that will go flashing by on the screen. Don't be alarmed. Although Chris Nolan and Co. have set up the DVD to look like a series of tests, you really don't have to read through or pay much attention to everything on the screen. However, because sometimes they can be quite entertaining, I suggest you do. "Why are these people laughing at you?" asks one question. "We know you did it," ominously states another. This edition can get trippy if you let it.
After the memory flash, you are then asked to select from a list of words the ones you didn't see. Like I said, this isn't really a test, but an ingenious way to present the disc's main menu.
Selecting WATCH plays the movie. Selecting READ allows you to choose between English or Spanish subtitles, while LISTEN allows you to hear the movie in either English or French, 5.1 Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1 Surround Sound. CHAPTER sends you right to the scene selection option. And COMMENTS turns on Christopher Nolan's Director's Commentary track.
In my review of the commentary track for "Following", Nolan's first movie, I called his delivery "monotone... somnolent at times" but that he's "so smart and precise about what he's saying you can easily overlook that and become engrossed in the content." I can say pretty much the same thing here. Except that, in some ways, it's a less effective track. Nolan spends a lot of time analyzing the story, deconstructing the main character, his motivations, the structure, etc. They are the kind of out-loud thoughts a screenwriter might use when figuring out his screenplay, but serve little purpose for a viewer watching the film (okay, I suppose prospective screenwriters will get some value out of it). It is thrilling to see how Nolan's big brain works, how he's thought through every situation, and has a reason for including everything in the movie. But it's just one note played over and over for an hour and a half. If Nolan had mixed things up a bit, included more anecdotal information, or behind the scenes goodies, it would have been a stellar track. As it is, it's got a very narrow appeal.
Disc 2 begins much the same way that Disc 1 did, except this time you are asked to view a series of pictures, and then are asked to select which picture from a list wasn't shown. This is, as I'm sure you have guessed, the menu for the additional material features.
Selecting the COMPASS shows you a behind-the-scenes photo gallery, as well as pages from Leonard's Journal. The BOOK allows you to read Nolan's script while listening to the audio track of the movie. You are even privy to the notes he made in the margins of the script, offering further thoughts on how scenes might be filmed. The GLOBE brings forth a whole mess of international promotional material, while the BINOCULARS give the option of viewing the international and North American theatrical trailers.
Selecting the SKULL starts a featurette, produced by the Sundance Channel, called "Anatomy of a Scene". Nolan, his editor, composer, producer, cinematographer, and one actor (Joey Pantoliano) discuss the whys and hows of the production. Particular emphasis is given to the opening few scenes, detailing how they were set up to gently bring the audience into the aesthetic of the film. Overall, the 25-minute segment further cements the notion that Nolan is an intelligent filmmaker, in full control of his cinematic palette.
Although not listed in the features on the DVD box, the much-ballyhooed 'Chronological Version' -- playing the scenes in the order in which they happen rather than back to front -- is here. Trust me. I just watched it. I'm not going to tell you how to find this version, for I think that would be a spoiler on par with giving away the end (beginning?) of the movie. But I will say that this information is available in several places online, so those of you who get frustrated with the puzzle should easily be able to obtain the answers (if not, drop me an e-mail). And I must say, "Memento" is still quite a gripping tale when told this way. But it does make Nolan's reason for telling the story his "gimmicky" way quite clear. The problem with this feature, however, is that it doesn't offer you the option of fast forwarding or jumping from scene to scene. So unless you can watch the whole movie in one sitting, you better not press 'stop'.
If you enjoyed "Memento" because it was a complex puzzle of a film, than I suspect you will enjoy this equally complex and even more puzzling DVD version. I'm almost positive that there is more to this edition than the features I've listed above. And I look forward to hunting for them in the future... or is that the past?
on August 28, 2002
This review is of the Limited Edition DVD, not the movie itself. The movie is quite good, but unless you are fanatically devoted to it, get the "regular" edition, not this "Limited" edition. First of all, the menus are enough to drive you crazy. I like my menus to be simple and utilitarian; the menus on these DVDs are like a puzzle that you have to solve. Sure, it's cute the first couple of times, but after that it just gets annoying - especially the ones on disc 2, with the special features (including the "chronological" version of the movie - but more on that below). I can't stress enough how annoying these are. Imagine if the remote control to your entertainment system had 85 identically shaped buttons, with no labels on them. That's kind of how the menus on these DVDs are. I watch movies to relax; the Memento Limited Edition DVDs are more like a chore. Trust me, if you're just a casual fan like me, you will not like it.
About the chronological version of the movie - yes, it is indeed on Disc 2. You can find out how to access it by trudging through the puzzling menus, or just looking it up on the internet like I did. Let me say this: THE CHRONOLOGICAL VERSION OF MEMENTO IS NOT NEARLY AS COOL AS IT SOUNDS! This version was the reason I bought the Limited Edition, and there are a number of problems with it, beginning with the fact that the only buttons that work during playback are "Pause" and "Stop." That's it. No fast forward or rewind, no slow motion, no subtitles. Believe me, this gets annoying real fast, especially since the movie begins with the complete end credits - rolled in reverse. Three minutes never lasted so long (and remember, you can't fast forward through them). Plus, the chronological version hasn't been re-edited or re-cut, so the scenes appear exactly as in the theatrical version, with the last few lines of each scene repeated as the first few lines of the subsequent scene. You would think they could have put in a little effort to make the transitions more seamless. And it's not like watching Memento in chronological order is absolutely necessary to understanding it; like The Usual Suspects, The Sixth Sense, and any other movie that requires the viewer to piece together information shown throughout the film, a second viewing of the theatrical version was sufficient for me to fully grasp everything. I didn't get a chance to explore any of the other special features on the Disc; it's just too much of a pain to try and find them.
Bottom line: unless you are a huge Memento fan, save your money and buy the regular edition. You'll be much happier.
on January 25, 2012
Two parts to this review (I'd post two separate reviews, but can't because Amazon has all Memento DVD versions folded together)
#1: Guide to Accessing Extras on 2-DVD Limited Edition
While disc 1 isn't that bad (within a few seconds, I figured out that clicking "read" accesses subtitles, "comments" turns on the audio commentary, etc.), trying to find the extras on disc 2 can be very frustrating. If you enjoy the challenge of mapping out the contents for yourself, more power to you, have a blast. For the rest of us:
I haven't gone through all 950+ reviews to see if someone has already posted this information, but I've found two websites that detail how to access everything(?) on the discs:
Edit: Ok, Amazon removed the hyperlinks, and I can understand why. So, I'll reproduce some of the information here, what I consider the most important pieces. Do your own web search if you want more.
To run the movie in reverse (i.e. chronological order):
. Select the clock icon (NOT the watch icon)
. Answer "C" to every question you're asked
. Order the photographs 3-4-1-2
To access a menu of supplements ("Anatomy of a Scene" featurette, director's script, stills/production sketches gallery, international poster art gallery)
. Select the clock icon (NOT the watch icon)
. Answer "E" to every question you're asked
There's plenty more, so do a web search if you're interested.
#2: Blu-Ray: buy 10th Anniversary Edition, not the older 'original'
I just received the 10th Anniversary Edition Blu-Ray. By chance, I visited a friend who has the original Blu-ray and was able to compare. The 10th Anniversary Edition is not a re-packaging of the original with more extras (all the extras from the 2-DVD set are now present). The picture is greatly improved (the original is 'soft' - the 10th anniversary edition shows much more detail). Also, the strangeness of the menus on the 2-DVD set is gone.
Note: The 2-DVD set allowed you to play the movie "in reverse", i.e. in chronological order. That option is not present on either Blu-Ray release, as far as I can tell. So, if you own the 2-DVD set and want to keep the ability to play the movie "in reverse", you'll have to keep Disc 2 from the 2-DVD set, and be satisfied with standard def for the "in reverse" version.
on August 26, 2005
As you can see from the many other reviews, this movie is outstanding. For those who would like to see the movie in chronological order, you should definitely buy the 2-disc "Limited Edition." The 2nd disk has a hidden feature that allows you to see the movie chronologically:
1) After inserting Disc 2, select the clock.
2) Select answer "c" 5 times for the questions that come up.
3) Select the pictures of the woman changing a tire in reverse order (3,4,1,2)
I would not use this feature if you have not seen the movie already, because it ruins the ending (or should I say the beginning?) of the movie. However, it is a great feature for watching the movie over again and understanding the logical sequence of events without feeling like you have amnesia.
on August 29, 2001
Ironically enough, the last movie I went nuts over before Memento was also a Guy Pearce film, L.A. Confidential. That was four years ago. Not since then has the film noir genre been brought back not only so well, but also raised the bar for similar films. You all know the story, and if you don't, read the other reviews here. I was fortunate enough to pick up the DVD of this movie I had seen 6 times earlier a week before its release. The disc is produced nicely--the menus show us a portion of the "first" scene, in forward playback for the first time. Teddy's backwards cry is heard often, and at one point (I don't know how/why this happened) the order of "Play Movie/Subtitles/Scene Selections/Special Features" became "Special Features/Scene Selections/Subtitles/Play Movie", and pressing down brought me up and pressing up brought me down. There is also a nice 20 minute interview from IFC with Christopher Nolan, as well as the movie's entire website. There's a nice little tattoo gallery as well. The disc only gets 4 out of 5, however, because it lacks an audio commentary, and also lacks what could be the most original special feature imaginable--a reworked edit of the film. How much would you want to watch the movie in sequence! That would rock! Alas, it isn't here. But I'm sure someone will do it, someday. Email me when you do, ok? Alright, I'm out...gotta go watch it a seventh time.
Alfred Hitchcock was the master of Cinema's Rule One: 'Do not tell. SHOW.' Director/screenwriter Christopher Nolan takes that philosophy a step further in this film noir masterpiece by controlling not only the viewer's visual sense but their perception of time as well, reconstructing the protagonist's attempts to make sense of his world by reading the clues he leaves for himself (and us) and deciding who to trust in order to understand not only what occurs, but why. In effect, Nolan has rewritten the rule: 'Do not show. EXPERIENCE.'
The cast is exceptional, Guy Pearce in particular, and traditional film noir elements are executed very well, with haunting music, taut cinematography, smart dialogue, effective voiceover, and a constant search for motive. Humor is used sparingly and effectively. This is really an editor's film, and Dody Dorn deserves an Oscar nomination for editing this gem.
As for the DVD edition, it is a mixed bag. Though operationally a bit buggy, cinematically and artistically the special features are creative and fun. For instance, interesting scenes run behind the menus, and many film clips appear framed as Polaroid camera shots, both fun to watch and relevant to the film's concept. The original idea for the film was supplied by the director's brother Jonathan, who wrote a short story based on the same idea and designed the film's web site; information rendered from outside the time frame of the film, viewable on the DVD as newspaper clippings and notes by Guy Pearce's Leonard, are adapted from that web site. Also included are Jonathan Nolan's short story, an Independent Film Channel interview with Christopher Nolan, trailers from Memento and an earlier Nolan film, cast and director biographies, subtitles in English or Spanish, and a tattoo gallery (which looked interesting, but I couldn't get it to work on my Power Mac G4). I wish more DVDs would incorporate this kind of material.
I was disappointed because I'd heard that on the DVD you could watch the film as if it was shot running forward but that is not here, unless you count running the chapters in reverse from the Chapter Selection feature. I would also have liked to have seen behind-the-scenes footage, especially storyboards.
This is a great film to watch with a group (as long as they don't talk during the film) so you can talk about it afterward. Nolan and crew can be proud of this fine film. The DVD extras could have been better, but they are still fun to play with.
on December 31, 2001
Christopher Nolan's mind-bending thriller "Memento" is one of those rare instances in which the form of a movie is designed to match its content. Here is a film all about the nature of short-term memory, which, by its own ingenious structure, challenges the audience to cope with its own mastery of short-term memory.
Guy Pearce stars as Leonard Shelby, a man who suffers from a "condition" brought on by a trauma to the head that prevents him from being able to retain any short-term memories (he can remember his life only up to the moment of his wife's rape and murder). To cope with his affliction, Leonard writes himself copious notes, mostly on the backs of polaroids he takes on a regular basis but sometimes on his own body in the form of informational tattoos. To approximate the sense of dislocation of time and place that Leonard feels on a daily basis - as he has to reorient himself to people and events he has recently met and since forgotten - Nolan has chosen to structure his film in a backward progression, so that the first scene ends up being the most recent and the final scene the earliest in time. This technique is not exactly an original one, since the 1983 movie "Betrayal" used roughly the same format in the context of a romantic drama. Still, "Memento" deserves enormous credit not only for trusting its audience to be able to cope with this complex style but for managing to keep most of the plot details well-focused and coherent for most of the film's duration.
One of the risks of a film like "Memento" is that it could, if handled badly, easily become a mere exercise in technical "gimmickry." One of the ways that Nolan avoids that trap is by devising a plot that is as gripping as any to be found in a traditionally structured example of film noir. "Memento" is filled with the kinds of narrative twists and turns, surprise revelations and moral ambiguities that form the basis for any good example of the genre. More important, Nolan makes Leonard a compellingly sympathetic character, one whom we come to care for because his plight is so heartrending at its core. Here is a man who not only has to deal with the immense incomprehensibilities of his life but who cannot even benefit from the time factor that helps mourning people come to terms with the loss of a loved one. To Leonard, his wife's death is a perpetual recent event, one from which he can never attain that emotional distance so key to finally overcoming his grief.
Special note should be taken of Guy Pearce, who delivers a knockout performance as Leonard, perfectly capturing the determination, frustration and emotional pain that define the character. Carrie-Ann Moss and Joe Pantoliano offer superb support as two perpetual "strangers" who play significant roles in Leonard's strangely dislocated and fragmented life - yet just what those roles are is as much a mystery to us as it is to Leonard. David Julyan's subtle and haunting musical score and Wally Pfister's fine cinematography greatly contribute to the unique quality of the film.
Watching "Memento" is like entering a strange, mystical dream. Like Leonard, we feel as if we have suddenly been stripped of that ability to fully make sense out of the chaotic world around us. We feel cut loose from our mental moorings and find ourselves adrift in a world bereft of the rules of chronological reasoning we cling to so desperately for survival. How many movies actually manage to shift our paradigm of perception and make us look anew at the way we observe the world around us? Not many, I can assure you.
Christopher Nolan's brilliant and audacious cinematic tour de force reawakens our faith in the medium and those who dare to challenge it.