I see things and I hear things I do not understand. I’m a skilled, resourceful vegetable.
The true threads of a director are brought to the fore by the extent to which he manages to make the audience feel at home with the character(s) he wants to portray. If a single piece of furniture in his reel of negatives makes us feel like an invisible fly in his crafted environment, we can safely applaud the excellence of his creation. And director Christopher Nolan of Oscar fame gleefully surpasses all boundaries of relatability as he pulls us through the cerebral nodes of his demented protagonist in his 2000 psychological thriller Memento.
Amnesia is a difficult thing to personify. A rotting illness of the brain, it sure puts a considerable weight on the shoulders of the actor to pull off a convincing image in front of the camera. Aamir did a pretty good job in Ghajini. His sure-footed confidence through the fluffy first half and his loud desperation after he gets clubbed into the illness clearly formed a major chunk of the film’s forte. That movie was oversimplified and dramatic, which is how most movies back home are supposed to be.
Guy Pearce from the flick at hand is a different story altogether. For as much as Ghajini took slight detour from the usual popcorn reels in Bollywood, Memento creates its own trail in the history of world cinema. While Ghajini relied on its protagonist (and his amped-up body) to draw oomph on the silver screen, Memento whiskes us into an alarming journey of mushy ambiguity that’s an enigma in itself. While Ghajini used Aamir as the focus point for the cameras, Memento doesn’t need to do that with Forgetful Pearce. He doesn’t need to cock his head questioningly at his latest victim, wondering when he pulled the trigger on the unfortunate guy. He doesn’t need to furrow his brows and scrunch up his face in sizzling angst one instant and sweep the expressions away the next, scratching his head for any remnants of the shattered bloodbath that is his memory. He doesn’t need smoky whitewash effects or blaring alarmlike sounds to aid him in putting his most forgetful self forward. For Memento, in every single frame, does all the goddamn work. Ever since we watch Leonard kill a guy in reverse motion against a blue array of beginning credits, we’re sucked away from every implanted notion of time and taken to an absurd rollercoaster of flip-flopping sets of flashback-reality that move from linear to reverse to parallel in childlike glee. For those of you who can’t grip your minds around my rants; let’s just say I’m preparing you for the ghastly tsunami that’s gonna grip your mind when you subject it magnificent hell that is Memento. And make no mistake, it’s hell solid as you’re reading this blog right now.
I have to deliberately snake around any spoliers (and a single minute of storyline would give the whole game away) and try to get you to feel what I’m feeling without letting too much slip from my thumbs. And since I cannot make you understand through general language, I have to say this: Not the whole of the Christie collection collection could make me feel the orgasmic rush of Adrenaline like Memento did. And does. And does again.
Guy Pearce delivers a focused performance as Leonard, a victim of Antegrade Amnesia, who writes notes on his body and anywhere else he can to help him find the rapist and murderer of his wife. Simple enough? You just wait. For if the plot spurs intrigue and unprecedention on its own, it’s the narrative that makes your head buzz with a million venomous shards of questions and doubts and confused awe. The scenes are played backward as the film unreels, so that you first start five minutes ahead of the end, then work your way towards the end, then cut ten minutes back and see how things led up to those five minutes before the end, then cut fifteen minutes back and see how things led up to those ten minutes, and so on. This hopscotch-like formula of storytelling is interspersed with black and white snippets of the protagonist’s life that took place before the coloured ones even started. Not looking so easy now, is it? That’s just the nose of the spiral.
The story’s no easy job either. What starts out like the eye of a cyclone, narrow and rectilinear, turns out to be the tip of an iceberg, slowly unfolding its greyscale-obscured depths before us, growing more and more frayed and ambiguous with each backward leap. What really sets Memento apart from all other two hours that ever graced the multiplex is its drastic relatibility. Confusion and not resolution is the milestone the movie’s trying to achieve. If you switch off your laptop with “What the fuck?” scrawled across your face, the film’s succeeded in making you relate with its main man. For Leonard (the surname fails me; I’m really relating to his character right now), for the whole of the film and after, is unable to feel the supple passage of time owing to his inability to make any new memories stick. He’s on a surreal hop between the past and the present, and for those two hours, so are we. Hence, we start out every five minutes of the film with a new beginning and no context whatsoever, having zero clue as to what brought Leonard to his current circumstance. We just have to ‘go with the flow’, rather like our guy. The only chance we get to connect the dots is when the film allows us to; when the ending of a later Hopscotch square leads up to the starting of the previous one and we go “Oh, so that’s why he was running!”
Memento raises my bar of Chris Nolan movies Jupiter-high. A definite fanboy of time travel and screwed up storylines, the old film has become a sort of addiction for me. And I’m not alone. Not remotely alone. For this twisted beauty of a movie has long achieved cult status in face of its evergrowing fandom, with the website http://otnemom.com serving as a forum where fanatics can share their interpretations of the movie and carry out research using free newspaper articles and explicit commentaries from Nolan.
It doesn’t solve issues any more than it creates them. It doesn’t start off with a problem, go through an arc and find a solution towards the end. It doesn’t fall in the usual rigmarole of ‘psychological thrillers’ or any movie for that matter. It’s not even a movie as it is an interpretation of the frightening everyday reality of an Antegrade Amnesian. Memento is, and will remain, a definite pathbreaker for directors and actors across generations to come. The funny thing is, even though it explored a whole new dimension of plot, screenplay and narration, no one’s ever tried anything slenderly similar to the movie in more than a decade. And honestly, they shouldn’t. They really shouldn’t- if they value their freedom, that is. For very few can think of a movie so different, so mysterious, so beautifully macabre as Memento without crossing the waters into plagiarism.
It’s a movie par excellence, par cosmos. Watch it if you want your brains chewed out for a week.