Film@JCSM kicks off Thursday, January 16 at 6 pm. This semester’s topic is Photography on Film.
Chistopher Nolan’s neo-noir film Memento (2000) opens with a close-up of a hand holding a Polaroid photo of a bloody murder scene. The unseen figure shakes the instant film and the self-developing image, which should be coming into focus, instead begins to fade. The picture disappears completely, the figure inserts the photo back into his camera, and we see the face of Leonard Shelby, played by actor Guy Pearce. All at once, a gun jumps into his hand, a bullet flies backward, and Teddy (Joe Pantoliano), the dead man in the image, comes back to life. It’s very clear now that everything is moving in reverse.
With this mysterious beginning (or is it the ending?) we are introduced to the story of a man looking for his wife’s killer. But Leonard Shelby is no ordinary detective. He has a rare form of amnesia that keeps him from making new memories. To solve the case and avenge her murder, he therefore relies on an archive of clues and “mementoes” he has amassed over an indeterminate amount of time. So that he won’t get confused, he takes Polaroids of the key people, places, and things in the case (“Discount Inn,” “Natalie,” “my car”) that he captions with important notes (“Teddy – don’t believe his lies”). The bigger truths of which Leonard is absolutely sure are permanently tattooed on his body, messages he’s written to himself in reverse so that he can read them in the mirror: “Consider the source / Memory is treachery / Camera doesn’t lie.” He also has six “facts” about the perp’s identity on his arms and legs to aid him in his ultimate goal: “Find him and kill him.”
As Leonard tries to put the facts together, solve the case, and carry out his own form of justice, the film also presents a puzzle for the viewer. Presented in two intertwined narrative timelines, the film unravels as a full color storyline that runs backward in time and another that moves forward chronologically, “developing” like the Polaroid in the opening sequence, in black and white. The film moves back and forth between the two timelines as the clues are revealed.
If you’ve never experienced Memento, come and see what made the film a blockbuster hit and a cult classic. And if you’ve already unlocked the film’s secret….shhhhh!….don’t spoil the fun.