Every once in a while, someone produces a film that is so different, it sparks a massive fan following and invites people to speculate about it and create theories – which can neither be proven true or false – to boost the popularity and impact of the film.
This can only happen if a film is able to stand out. This is especially difficult today, when over two thousand films are released a year. Nobody is marveled by the concept of the moving image anymore. Nobody is amazed by synchronised sound anymore. Nobody is in awe at CGI that looks like it’s completely real anymore.
Cinema has evolved so much that things that would have been unimaginable only half a century ago are common standing. Would anyone who was in a theatre watching 2001: A Space Odyssey have possibly thought that one day, a film like Guardians of the Galaxy would ever exist?
So what does it take to be etched into film history forever?
This is a question I would like to answer with a few examples, but first let me talk a little bit about the film that actually has a place in the title.
Memento is Christopher Nolan’s first widely released film, from the year 2000, and is quite frankly a work of genius. The film follows Guy Pearce’s Leonard Shelby, a man with a condition which disables him from producing any memories at all, which he received after an incident involving the rape and ‘murder’ of his wife. His ultimate goal in this movie is to find the culprits and kill them.
Given his condition, however, this isn’t particularly easy. And that’s where the true genius of this film lies.
Christopher Nolan has always been one to fiddle around with chronology and time. Even though this was questionably done in Interstellar, its subtle influence on Dunkirk was a welcome feature of the film. However, that would seem like child’s play in comparison to Memento.
Here is where I answer my own question. Films that will forever be etched into history, at least for me, are those that are able to be original even today. How this is achieved is a result of a filmmaker’s vision.
An example that comes to mind is Pulp Fiction (obviously). Similar to Memento, the narrative isn’t exactly chronological, and the chunky puzzle of a story is what makes the movie so beloved. A little further down the line, there’s Fight Club, a movie that failed miserably at the box office but has one of the most passionate fan bases ever. Why? It’s a film that ends in a way that makes you look at it in a completely different light, encouraging you to watch it again in order to view the story from a different perspective. A film that’s a little more recent and will most definitely be remembered for decades to come is Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), which is unique in the way it’s made. The entire film is one long take, and even though there is one cut in the film, there are even theories regarding why that cut exists.
The point is, all of these films make two things very clear:
- Editing is an aspect of film that is often overlooked, but when something that is unconventional, not entirely chronological or completely original pops up, receives the biggest spotlight.
- The biggest reason all of them are so good is that they had visionaries at the helm. I strongly doubt any of them could have been nearly as good if Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher or Alejandro González Iñárritu weren’t in their respective director’s chairs. On that note, it is strikingly clear that Christopher Nolan is also a pioneering filmmaker.
Memento is quite possibly edited in an even more special way than all of those films. There is a narrative that both goes forward in time and in reverse, at the same time. This is rather difficult to explain, but I can try.
The events going forward are in black and white and exist to add context to the story. The events going in reverse are in colour and are connected as they go along, but the point of everything going in reverse is to make the viewer feel as if they are the protagonist, someone who cannot remember anything and has to photograph, write or tattoo everything to have some sort of recollection.
Clearly, this is something that can go horribly wrong if not done properly, and Nolan is able to craft a film that gives you the answers before the questions. How many times has anything ever done that?
This is strongly aided by the fact that Guy Pearce’s performance reeks of magnificence. There is an air of innocence to the character that makes it completely believable that he has the condition that he has.
What Memento does to you by the end of it is have you really appreciate the value of editing. Why else would I have written this extensive analysis? Sure, the conventional way of telling a story on screen is fine, but when it’s told a little differently, it can make a film seem so much more special. If one thinks about it, Memento wouldn’t have been nearly as good if the whole movie was told in the right order. Really, it’d just be a much worse version of John Wick. But when this sort of thought was put into it, it was made into something that is unforgettable (pun intended) in the mind of any film lover.
On a scale where M is the lowest and R is the highest possible rating, with the highlighted letter being the rating: