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Laramie Movie Scope:

backwards told tale confusing A

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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18 April, 2001 -- "Memento" is a story of stunning originality told backwards in a series of flashbacks. As it goes along, the viewer learns more and more about the scenes at the beginning of the film. He discovers that the story isn't what it first seemed to be at all.

Guy Pearce ("L.A. Confidential") stars as Leonard Shelby, a man who suffers a head injury which destroys his ability to make new memories. He has a short term memory, but after awhile, the memories fade. He can only remember the things that happened before the "incident" as he calls it, when he and his wife were attacked by an intruder in their home.

Shelby, a former insurance investigator, is obsessed with exacting revenge from the man who "took his life." Armed with a number of notes, police investigation files, Polaroid photos and tattoos all over his body, he pursues the man who attacked him and his wife. Part of the film actually does go backwards, but the rest of it is a series of short scenes, each of which takes place before the scene which precedes it. The structure of the film forces you to piece the story together from memory.

At one point, Shelby gets into an argument over the shortcomings of his plan. Another character argues that he can't rely on his notes to prove that he has the right man. The notes are not reliable. Shelby argues that memory isn't reliable either. He argues his method of investigation is based on facts, not memory, so it is valid. As the movie goes on we begin to suspect that Shelby is right about the fallibility of memory. We also learn some disturbing things about the capacity for self-deception, too. In the end, this is a disturbing film with no easy answers, no black and white truths.

We are left with questions about the nature of reality. A person who cannot form new memories can virtually make up his own reality as he goes along. A few minutes go by and he forgets all he has learned. He starts over, aided only by his notes and tattoos and whatever evidence he can find. A man with no memory can erase his guilt as easily as he erases a note. A man's conscience lasts only as long as his memory.

As clever as this film is, there are some holes in the plot. A man with memory loss ought to be easily caught because he would find it nearly impossible to cover his tracks. Covering one's tracks requires a good memory. Also, Shelby's short term memories seem to be inconsistent. Sometimes, they seem to last a lot longer than they do at other times. Shelby also seems to keep his investigation going pretty smoothly for someone who ought to have to rediscover his whole investigation every few minutes. However, this is such an intriguing story, I was willing to overlook these shortcomings. Some parts of the story are not explained, but that is part of this film's charm.

Kudos to writer-director Christopher Nolan (co-written by Jonathan Nolan) for coming up with a very original film, and to Dody Dorn, the editor. This must have been a tough film to edit. Pearce gives a powerful performance as Shelby. Carrie-Anne Moss of "The Matrix" also turns in a nice performance as Natalie, as does Joe Pantoliano of "The Sopranos," who plays Teddy. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2001 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)