Christopher Nolan's visionary thriller proves that film noir, our most beloved genre, continues to offer enormous possibilities for creative filmmakers. Gimmicky and manipulative in the best sense of these terms, “Memento” places the audience within the brain of a man named Leonard (splendidly played by Guy Pearce), who has lost his short-term memory–and identity.
Like most good movies, “Memento” operates on several levels. On the surface, it's a disturbing tale of revenge by man who's obsessive about finding the psycho who raped and killed his wife. Unable to process any new information for longer than a few minutes, he conducts his investigation through a series of Polaroid photos with scribbled captions and tattoos that adorn his body.
Defying linear progression, the script is structured backwards and sideways, so that Leonard's past and future appear to be interconnected from both ends, directly affecting his present. Deconstructing with agility time and space, cinema's most unique dimensions, Memento turns the very act of watching a movie into a self-reflexive riddle, forcing the viewers to decode and then encode not only Leonard's mystery but also the mysterious operation of their own memory.
Unlike most contemporary noirs, the script is not based on any recognizable antecedents–its characters and situations are thoroughly modern. Displaying movie savviness as well as social awareness, “Memento” assumes the clarity and piercing logic of a thoughtfully constructed puzzle, with neatly placed shards of humor and irony.