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In select cities, grownups are lining up for Memento, taking on its mind-boggling riddles and nonchronological storytelling. It's something of a cult challenge: Can you solve the mystery? Can you even follow what's going on? The film follows the quest of Leonard, a man who has lost his short-term memory, as he seeks vengeance for the murder of his wife. The scenes in the film run in reverse order so, like Leonard, in each circumstance the audience does not know how he got there or whom he can trust.
The U.S. Catholic Conference calls Memento a "remarkable yet flawed psychological puzzle," but cautions that "the unstable lead character's deadly revenge-seeking is disturbing." In my review at Looking Closer, I argue that the film is actually the antithesis of the typical revenge film. While movies like Braveheart and Gladiator romanticize revenge, Memento knows that indulging the appetite for revenge is not a healthy pursuit. As Leonard strives to set things right, evil finds a way to capitalize on his actions and make a bad situation far worse. For that, I admired the film, just as I am impressed with its complexities. Sure, it's implausible, but the writer and director have such fun in keeping us guessing that it proves to be a great escapist brain exercise.
For Peter T. Chattaway, it's an early 2001 favorite. He calls it "an exciting brain-teaser on several levels. First, there is the plot, which is convoluted enough to keep you and your friends hashing out the story for hours after the film is over. Second, there is the deeper issue of how memory, identity, and responsibility intertwine. Finally, there is the broader question of whether our actions have any absolute meaning beyond what we give them. Of course, no film can ever really answer a question like that, but Memento does a brilliant job of asking it."
from Film Forum, 01/17/02
"I was particularly excited by Memento because it reminded me of how limited our theories about the world can be, and because it emphasized the crucial role that memory plays in shaping who we are and how we relate to the people and the world around us. We all live within a narrative of some sort, and because the main character in this film is incapable of creating new memories, he is incapable of moving his own narrative any closer to some sort of resolution. He is, therefore, lost. My own hope as a Christian is that I am somehow living in the narrative within which God would have me live, and because God sees everything, and because God's memory is so much more reliable than mine, my true identity is ultimately going to be found in him, and not in me. It was this film that moved me to finally dust off my copy of Augustine's Confessions, since he makes a similar point near the end of that book."
Jason Cusick writes in praise of Memento for several reasons: "First, I believe it represents a new step in filmmaking. While it was Orson Wells who did away with linear storytelling, Memento's creator threw storytelling into the midst of postmodern storytelling in actually allowing his audience to connect with a man with no long-term memory. Second, because its simplicity as a film—great acting with few characters and a challenging plot—take us away from the big budget, big action films without resorting to being a three-character romantic tryst. Third, the message of Memento is a profoundly spiritual one, showing the great lengths to which we as fallen humans go to in dealing with painful memories and the ways we can use others so cunningly for our own advantage. It does this not by glorifying disobedience and sin but showing the dark and self-deceptive side of human nature."