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Fractured Consciousness

By Vladimir Zelevinsky

staff Writer

Written and directed by Christopher Nolan

With Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano

Rated R for violence, language and some drug content

The first thing that is most conspicuous about Memento is its structure: the main story line is broken up and shifted in time. The immediate effect -- and perhaps the most impressive thing in the whole movie -- is that it forces you to think, for the entire running length, more so than any recent movie since Twelve Monkeys.

Another recent film that Memento is vaguely similar to is The Usual Suspects -- a stylishly directed crime thriller that is about much more than mere style and mere crime, with the final plot twist reverberating through the whole structure, adding heft and meaning. There are also shades of Harold Pinter's Betrayal here -- but, better than all of the above, this film excels in putting the audience in the same fractured state of mind as its ticking bomb of a protagonist.

This protagonist, Leonard Shelby, is played by Guy Pearce (the cop in glasses from L.A. Confidential) with a mixture of steely determination and increasedly frazzled despair. This only makes sense, since Leonard is trying to revenge himself upon an unknown criminal, while addled with a peculiar memory ailment that makes it impossible for him to remember what happened to him even a few minutes ago.

The film grabs on this idea and runs with it, exploring it to the fullest with enviable precision. There is a lot of plot in Memento, and all of it runs like a well-oiled clock, each gear synched with every other, all puzzle pieces falling into place. The film also manages to be darkly humorous: the comic highlight is the scene that begins in the middle of the chase, with Leonard not sure if he is chasing or being chased.

On hand there is also Joe Pantoliano, mysteriously friendly, and Carrie-Anne Moss, mysteriously helpful. Memento certainly needs sharp acting, because it has less than half a dozen characters of any import. Once in a while, it does feel somewhat underpopulated; the visuals are elegant, but the emptiness of the streets betrays the film’s modest budget. In any case, a movie that utilizes a couple of the actors from The Matrix in colorful supporting parts deserves extra points for sheer coolness.

It is also supremely relevant and deep; if you ever left a phone message to yourself, or wrote something down just so you would not forget it, or even kept a diary -- Memento will give you a jolt of recognition. It is also about the way we think of people we meet and label them with a single pithy phrase (“She will help you”) or create our own memories to replace the ones of the events we don’t particularly care for.

The ending, in particular, harnesses both tragedy and triumph, a desperate attempt on Leonard’s part to become a master of his own fate, whatever the price. When the ending of a suspense thriller makes the movie even more thought-provoking, it is an achievement not to be forgotten.