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Jan 27 2016

Retro Sundance: 2001's Memento

WhenMementoarrived in 2001,it was a total buzzfest: Everyone was talking about it.It had a Wachowski level of cool (even co-starring Wachowski favorites Joe Pantoliano and Carrie-Anne Moss),it had a gritty noir sensibility,and an innovative time-bending structure deftly designed to get you inside the brain-damaged mind of Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce).It left Sundance that January with the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award,hit movie theaters in March,and when awards season came it was nominated for an Oscar for the Screenplay (Chris Nolan's first Oscar nomination) as well as the Editing prize.The movie has lost none of its cachet in the intervening years,retaining a 92% "fresh"rating on Rotten Tomatoes,and clocking in at #46 on the IMDb Top 250.

But I have a personal reason for loving this movie,as well as a story (I always have a story) if you'll indulge meafter the jump...

In 1991,my ex,Isaac Bonewits,was diagnosed with a rare disease called EMS.We separated in 1998,but remained good friends,and saw each other often.EMS affects muscles,nerves,the immune system,and the brain,specifically the memory.My ex's short-term memory was for shit;he could remember the scholarly material he'd studied over the years,but forgoteverythinghe heard verbally,and couldn't remember faces.

Mementois the story of Leonard,who cannot form new memories due to a brain injury sustained in the same violent crime that killed his wife.He is searching for his wife's killer despite this profound disability.Like my ex,Leonard remembers almost everything by writing it down (unlike my ex,he also gets tattoos to create permanent mnemonics that he'll see in the mirror).

InMementoI found something like a meditation on what it is tobe,to love,to strive,to care,when you can't remember.And I was moved in a way perhaps unique to someone touched by brain injury.Almost everyone loved the movie,but I loved it for reasons that were particular to me.

When my ex was buy to pick up or drop off the kid one afternoon,I mentioned this movie that I thought he'd love.We ended up having a pretty deep conversation about living with memory loss.

About six months later,Isaac went away for the weekend and visited with a mutual friend.When he got back,he stopped by the house and we sat and chatted about the visit."By the way,"he said,"we saw the most amazing movie.You should watch it.I wrote down the name so I could remember to tell you about it."Naturally,when he found the piece of paper in his pocket,it said "Memento".

Isaac succeeded where Leonard failed;he retained an essential,recognizable,delightful self,despite his damaged brain.AsMementoends,we have no such confidence in Leonard,making the movie haunting and dark.

(Isaac Bonewits passed away on August 12,2010.)

Deborah Lipp blogs about (mostly) television atBasket of Kisses.

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Reader Comments (10)

Guy Pearce is so fucking hot.

January 27,2016 | Unregistered CommenterChanteuse

Beautiful writeup.Thanks for sharing this.
It's easy to forget how powerful the novelty of Memento was,but I was pretty amazed when I saw it.It remains Nolan's only re-watchable movie.

January 27,2016 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

(Mild spoilers?Go see it!)

Amazing story.Thank you for sharing.

Memento remains one of my favorite films of the last decade,and every time I see it,while it's the mystery that easily hooks me in again,the moments of reflection are always surprisingly moving.I also love the ending,and always walk away thinking about who we are at our core.I wrote a paper for an art class in college comparing the use of color/B&W to The Wizard of Oz,the touchstone of color-as-belief in film,and the importance of creating our worlds.

It also reminds me how much I wish Guy Peace and Carrie-Anne Moss had better careers.Both are so incredible here.

January 27,2016 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

That is one of those stranger than fiction stories because who could make that up?

January 27,2016 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Its too cool and forward for the Academy back in 2001.I remembered my dropped jaw at the ending.

IMO,Pierce delivered the BEST ACTOR performance of 2001,shame tt he was not nom.

January 27,2016 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

Thank you for sharing that story,and for underlining how emotionally involving this film is for everyone.

What I remember was seeing this film when it was first released,and going into the office and about 3 or 4 other people had seen it on the weekend as well.What a conversation...we all had been blown away by the flashback structure,the performance,just the mystery of it all.
"Memento"is more than the gimmick of an editing style.It is a plunge into the unknown,it's a film that dares to tell it's audience to keep up and figure it out for themselves.

January 27,2016 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Thank you for sharing that story.It is amazing which films end up touching us.I had a similar reaction when I watched Awakenings (1990 with Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro) When DeNiro slowly wakes up and begins walking around and recognizes his mother I just started crying.I couldn't even control it.I remembered my grandmother who had Alzheimer's disease.I watched and remember what it was like being and loving someone who didn't always know who you were.She always smiled whenever we can in,but had to be told who we were.Perhaps I wouldn't love Awakenings so much if I hadn't experienced this.

P.S.My grandma loved movies.She would keep clipping of Bette Davis and had a photo of Claudette Colbert.She always liked watching Gone with the Wind.My favorite memories are of watching it with her.

January 28,2016 | Unregistered CommenterTom

Guy Pearce is so fucking hot.

He was.LA Confidential,Ravenous,and Memento.

I am moved by the author's real life account of knowing someone without short term memory.Memento remains the best movie Chris Nolan will ever make.

January 28,2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

eurocheese,the comparison to Wizard of Oz sounds fascinating.

Thanks everyone for your appreciation of my story.I honestly wasn't sure how it would come across..glad you got it!

January 28,2016 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Lipp

Thank you so much for sharing,Deborah.It's always better when we have these strange personal attachments to movies.

Memento remains a tour de force,so much more than the "gimmick"of its structure.All three central performances are incredible,and this is the most ruthless and funny Nolan has ever been.It's still a great watch all these years later.

And yes: Guy Pearce = WOOF.

January 28,2016 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

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