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UCHRONIC MAGAZINE OF THE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY OF TOMORROW
"Oh memory, mortal enemy of my rest! " MIGUEL DE CERVANTES
 
OPINIÓN - CELULOIDE DIGITAL - MEMENTO
 
 
 
"MEMENTO” (2000)
Bandera España

 “I have to believe that when my eyes are closed the world is still there”

“We all need mirrors to remind us who we are”

“And the present is trivia, which I scribble down as fucking notes”



LEONARD SHELBY

By Patric Laneuville Châlons*. Email: plch@tiemposfuturos.es (SUBJECT: CONTACT PATRIC)

Memento” is an astonishing delirium, a mistake made by the editor, a dejà vu type antithesis, an inverted puzzle, an invented brilliance under the effect of psychotropics (?), an interactive mind game, a bi-directional film: The viewer converts into yet another character in the movie, being the one who assembles the story, bumping elbows with the protagonists in order to achieve their objective. The film has two special features that amalgamate an extraordinary work, on the lines of oropeles (a Golden Globe and two Oscar nominations). The first is nothing more than the incredible originality of its approach to the subject:
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Sammy Yankies wrote a ton of notes but they didn’t help him.” “Lesion in the hippocampus from car accident. He didn’t keep new memories, he couldn’t remember anything for more than two minutes and he could do things that he learned before the accident”.  Entomologists say, that from studying insects so much, they end up looking like them, in their habits and physiognomy. Leonard Shelby, insurance claims adjuster, studied the case and ended up converting into the same thing that he studied: (1) A man with the capacity to remember amputated, and who recurs to self-tattooing himself, not only to survive, but to untangle the murder of his wife. The laborious way that he goes about reconstructing the truth, almost like a work of art, is worth taking your hat off for. Lenny may have been punished by Mnemosyne, the god of memory in Greek mythology, because with her still intact he did the impossible so Mr. Yankies couldn’t charge even a cent of the insurance.

 When we go towards the future there are infinite possibilities, like the paths that secondary rivers take, but when we go backwards, taking the water of time upriver, we find a lone strand, a sole possibility. (2) In “Memento” one inverts the principle of causality and tells the consequences first and the causes from which they originated last. And in the middle, the viewer’s brain is brewing in order to deduce the “becauses” having before them the “whys”. The solution to the hieroglyphic is found in the last scene, which is the first, being that the film is backwards, this is to say that it’s like the brainteaser mind games that we buy at the newsstands. The last will be the first, first tears and then the storm. We find ourselves before a singular psychotic thriller bordering on science-fiction, with an amazing soundtrack by David Julián (“The Prestige” 2006), perfect photography (Wally Pfister), based on a story whose branches masterfully intertwine by the director’s brother, Jonathan Nolan. The brother, Christopher, immortalized himself in the eyes of filmmakers upon finishing the filming: He had just created a cult object. Without digital tricks, if the film were a game, it would be without doubt a Lego construction, whose assembly is totally polyhydric (“How grand film is”) and is the key to his success. If it were a geometric form, it could be represented by a twisted wire with many curls. It had already been done before but Tarantino took a bloody axe and cut into pieces the chronological order of “Pulp Fiction”, in an amazing way: Since then, until “Memento” we hadn’t seen anyone do it with such brilliance. Both, indispensable contributions to the history of film: If it hadn’t been those two in 1994 and 2000, other geniuses of the future, sooner or later, would have had to shoot the films.

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 Guy Pearce, in the role of Leonard Shelby, (the smart cop in L.A. Confidential or the traveler in “The Time Machine”) produced an impeccable work in which it is difficult to come up with any “buts”. His metamorphosis, from skilled Insurance Inspector to man “without a hard drive” to a useless mental case, is perfect. In his new state, and following the simile computer technician, he only has one RAM memory available, this is to say, that he erases or re-sets the contents every time he turns himself off (he sleeps). “I use habit and routine to make my life possible” “It’s hard to live like this, almost impossible” “You can’t trust memory” “Memory can change the shape of a room or the color of a car” “You learn to trust your own handwriting” “Facts, I only base on facts” (these captured in chronological order and in black and white in a telephone conversation). These sentences removed from the protagonist show his modus vivendi, after being afflicted with an illness that psychiatrists denominate as Loss of Recent Memory. The most immediate, the “all we have it’s here and now” from “Up Where we Belong” by Joe Cocker is the most treasured prize of Leonard “Lenny” Shelby. But such a state should be something similar to what is waiting for us in hell: “How can my scars heal if I don’t feel the passing of time?” More than a drama the film is a raw super drama, disguised as an alternative thriller, what happens is that it doesn’t seem like it because it’s no girls’ head that’s in the box and the illness shown is aseptic, inane, without color, smell, or taste. No galloping metastasis… although maybe something worse: They take away our memory and they take away everything. Alzheimer is the disintegration of the human being. Our memories are the best and worst that we have. They are us. Human frailty is visible, one of the few times it happens in film. “That is who you were” says the excellent actor Joe Pantoliano (Teddy), from his unnerving role.

As I said in the beginning, it is the viewer who really has to assemble the film in their mind, so we don’t discard the idea of some smart guy asking the production company for his part of the takings. And maybe, the idea occurred to him because in the movie, the (few) protagonists move around in the sordid underworld, with guns, in a lawless world, marginal, of dilapidated houses in the outskirts where one settles their scores away from the cops. “Get rid of him” is the order. Betrayal and loneliness are the natural spaces where the different characters evolve, with a quick shot and few words, with no scruples to lie, rip off, blackmail, get revenge, leave whoever to see “how the flowers grow from below before his footsteps grow cold”. However, in almost all of them, between the turbulent tangle that defines the worst of the human condition, something holy comes out, something of the best of our condition, that in principle we do have, right?: (The guy in the motel that just ripped him off: “The next time you pay, ask for a receipt”. Lenny tells Sammy Yankies’s wife what she wants to hear…). The film is an incredibly strange story of revenge in which you already know if one gets consumed, and how, even who. Disconcerting. A strange sensation.    

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The subject of memory, of one’s memories, the passing of time is almost inherent, and has always gone hand in hand with the history of art, whichever is its manifestation although especially cinema and literature. From the thousands of works that implicitly or explicitly approach the subject I recommend three short stories, along with another that takes you to the last link, “To live is to arrive, to die is to return” and “Remember that you forgot”. You can find them just a click away in this very magazine, and they have a lot to do with the development of the film that we are talking about today, “Memento”. Very recommendable: remember it, tattoo it in a visible place. But a needle and some ink from a Bic pen isn’t a great idea, really. 

 Speaking of these tattoos, together with his photos and notes, they convert into the non operative neurons that disappoint the protagonist’s brain, in its prolongation. Although…doesn’t the same thing happen to all of us? Think of, in general, a trip that lacks physical souvenirs; graphic or written material will only remind you of a few clichés, sometimes not even that: Maybe it never existed. What happens to Leonard Shelby is the same thing but on a “cronomicroscopic” scale. His days are our decades on a cognitive level. He can suddenly wake up in the middle of a parking lot running parallel to someone: “Am I chasing you or you chasing me?” Or next to a beautiful woman without knowing who she is or how he got there (Isn’t that a common fantasy?) She is the nebulous Carrie-Ann Moss (Natalie): “Next time will you remember me? I think so. (He tricks himself although he shakes his head no)” Maybe to torment him, she adds: “Even if you get revenge, you’re not gonna remember it”. But Leonard Shelby is very sure: “The world doesn’t just disappear when you close your eyes.” 



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 Here’s an example: Let’s put the microscope on a simple stunning detail in the plot, dedicated especially to the people who say that “Memento” wouldn’t be worth anything if it had been narrated in a conventional chronological order. Sammy Yankies’ wife, a diabetic, decides desperately because of her husband’s sickness to solve the situation once and for all. How? I won’t say in case you haven’t seen the work of art but I will say that the same method of resolution is, at the same time, the final proof that the situation is indefensible. Hyper-ingenious is a word that doesn’t do enough. Guys, it’s that sometimes neurons, more than make a synapses, they make fireworks. To put the finishing touches on the work Jonathan Nolan does a double somersault, since the “bad guy” uses what happened… so that Lenny believes that… wait!! If you have committed the crime of not seeing “Memento” this is the time to redeem yourself. Well, twice is obligated, but don’t worry: The feelings will be different. The first time you will thread the needle and the second time you can reinforce the sewing, and even make some beautiful stitch work. Without saying anything substantial, more honey on his lips, another example: Who killed Jimmy Grans, Natalie’s boyfriend? It turns out to be the last person a civilized and experienced spectator could imagine. You already know, you have to see it.

To finish off, a recommendation and two silly details: If you see the movie at home, do it all at once, or if you can’t, make a scratch in the part where you stop your visualizing. If you don’t do it like that it’s materially impossible to know where you are because of the inverse way that the events are narrated. Here’s the first detail: The big bosses, the big cheese that rules from up there,  that ones who suggested doing the critique backwards, I guess it was to be assholes, excuse me if there are kids reading this. That’s just the reason that I wrote what you just read and said, simply: “If you apply the inverse of something backwards… what would it look like?” The second: “Can you imagine that it was all just a big mistake in the editing room? Would we have the look of idiots, one similar to the face that we had while watching “Memento?”

* Pseudonym of Ramón Galí

VISIT OTHER CINEMATOGRAPHIC CRITIQUES:

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TIME MACHINE
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2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
MINORITY REPORT
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* The copyrights of the shots from the movie, posters and trailers belong to their corresponding production companies and distributors.

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SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY MOVIES . CINEMATOGRAPHIC CRITIQUE. BLADE RUNNER.
MEMENTO. FORBIDDEN PLANET. TIME MACHINE. BRAZIL. 2001. MINORITY REPORT. CONTACT