Memories — ‘Memento’ 20 Years Later

March 18, 2021

(Illustration found here).

Memory is a weird-ass commodity, especially as you get older. Events, people, places and things are stored in the brain and are supposedly right there for whenever needed, with or without being invited, and sometimes with or without that recollection being real.
Twenty years seems a long time, but in reality, it’s not. I’ve seen three 20-year segments in my life plus a decade and change, with the odd part that shit from long ago appear in memory sometimes as if from yesterday. A mental photograph from 2001 has the same coloring as one from 1967 (50 years ago) when I graduated high school.

According to Psychology Today:

Memory encompasses the facts and experiential details that people consciously call to mind as well as ingrained knowledge that surface without effort or even awareness.
It is both a short-term cache of information and the more permanent record of what one has learned.
The types of memory described by scientists include episodic memory, semantic memory, procedural memory, working memory, sensory memory, and prospective memory.

Along with our own library of memory, there’s also a loss of it, ostensibly called ‘amnesia‘ — which refers to the loss of memories, such as facts, information and experiences. However: ‘Though forgetting your identity is a common plot device in movies and television, that’s not generally the case in real-life amnesia.
Thus, we arrive at anterograde amnesia, a condition in which a person is unable to create new memories after an amnesia-inducing event.

Such as we’ve reached “Memento,” Christopher Nolan’s second feature film (“Following” his first), which now has just crossed it’s 20th-year of release, and which also kicked-off Nolan’s high-caliber career — his next film was “Insomnia” (2002), with Al Pacino and Robin Williams. Although Roger Ebert gave it three-and-a-half stars, I didn’t like it very much. Too dreary, which was natural of course, since it was a remake of a supposedly dreary Norwegian film of the same name,
Nolan’s next project was the first of the ‘Batman’ series, “Batman Begins” (2005), and he was off and running. Despite the acclaim and box office attraction I think ‘Memento,’ and to a certain extent, ‘Batman Begins,’ as his best work.

Don’t get me wrong, Nolan’s stuff is good, though, I haven’t seen any since “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012), and I thought “Inception” (2010) was crafty (he can do wonders with film), but ‘Memento‘ blew my shit away:

I’ve viewed ‘Memento‘ a number of times (on DVD) and it continues to fascinate me. Just one of those movies that just clicks, and although I haven’t seen it in years, it’s seared into my memory. The clips back-and-forth from color (flashbacks) to black-and-white (the present time going-forward sequences) makes the strange, incomprehensible flow seemingly coherent despite the craziness.
And it’s got Carrie-Anne Moss, whom I adore — she even made the awful “Red Planet” (2000) mostly way-watchable.

What caused this renewed interest in ‘Memento‘ was a piece by Scott Tobias at the Guardian this week on the anniversary of the movie. Tobias was present at the initial screening of ‘Memento‘ at the 2000 Toronto film festival, and his description of the movie-reviewer press briefing after the showing reveals why ‘Memento’ packs such a wallop regardless of the fanatical story:

This was long before Nolan was the obscure Creator-God of Hollywood, enhancing his mystique by retreating from press and public appearances.
When the screening was over, he stood in front of the audience just like every other film-maker, and it was one of the most remarkable public Q&As I’ve ever witnessed.
There were no grueling multi-part questions or embarrassing personal requests for advice Nolan might have for a young director.
People were simply asking him, in granular detail, to explain what the hell they had just seen.
There wasn’t a note of hostility to the questioning, either, as there might have been for a film-maker who wasn’t clear in his storytelling or who left behind a few loose plot threads or red herrings.
Nolan’s film was a mile ahead of the audience, and they were eager to catch up.

See, the movie itself told the tale, despite the unreal way it was presented.

There have been other movies I’ve seen which tell a tale in similar fashion, and one of my long-time, long-ago favorites is “Providence” (1977), from French film-maker, Alain Resnais, which I saw in the late 1970s on the way-early Home Box Office cable channel. I haven’t been able over the years to locate it on DVD, or even VHS, so I’ll probably never see it again.
Resnais was also a time/memory trip artist, especially with such greats as “Last Year at Marienbad” (1961), and “Hiroshima Mon Amour” (1959), among a shitload of others — I’ve just seen these three — which takes time and memories and twisrs it all around.

Providence‘ was shown four times in one month on HBO, and I saw it all four times — it was Resnais frst English-language film and had a great cast, John Gielgud, Dirk Bogarde, Ellen Burstyn, David Warner, and even the great Elaine Stritch.
Gielgud plays a dying writer and he tries to remember certain parts of his life as he awaits his children — Bogarde, Burstyn and Warner — to visit. And the frames of his bullshit memories are strange and puzzling.
Despite more than 40 years, and most of the plot vanishing from ‘my‘ memory, again it blew my way-younger shit away:

Although Vincent Canby at the New York Times (January 1977) didn’t care for it:

Aside from the true feeling and intelligence that Mr. Gielgud, a magician as well as a great actor, occasionally can bring to a line, Mr. Mercer’s method (screenplay writer) is to have his characters toss wanly sardonic aphorisms back and forth, while Mr. Resnais’s is to make everything look alternately menacing and posh.
“Providence” is a lot of fuss and fake feathers about nothing.

I loved the shit out of it.

Another film in this genre, though different, was “Run Lola Run” (1998), a story told in the absence of time in three takes on the same event/events — well worth the view.
And again, blew my shit away:

Lola (Franka Potente) has to run like shit to try and save her boyfriend (Moritz Bleibtreu) from being killed by mobsters. Told in three stories, one of which made me almost cry until I understood the concept.
An interesting look at time…

(Illustration: M.C Escher’s ‘Three Spheres II,’ found  here).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.