Memento: Using Film Making as a Tool Rather than Just a Medium


Memento4-1600x900-c-default.jpgStill from Memento, Image from

Memento is a 2000 psychological thriller directed by Christopher Nolan staring Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Joe Pantoliano.  The film follows the story of Leonard Shelby, an insurance investigator as he attempts to track down his wife’s killer, the problem is Leonard has a condition where he cannot make new memories, leaving him with no short term memory.  He uses tattoos, Polaroid photographs, and written messages by him to stay on track in his investigation, as he will lose track of what he is doing or where he is every ten to fifteen minutes.

By having a short term memory, the audience would have a hard time relating with Leonard.  In fact, they would probably get quite annoyed with him getting confused every ten minutes and asking people if they know him or about his condition.  With a story like this the audience needs to feel what it’s like to be Leonard and not just watch him from an outside perspective.

To help put the audience in Leonard’s shoes, and what makes Memento so great, are the clever film-making techniques used throughout the story.  This film doesn’t just use the camera to capture and record the plot, it uses it to enhance the plot.  You see, the story is actually shown backwards, so the first ten minutes of the film is actually the last ten minutes of the story.  What memento will do is cut back ten minutes (roughly) before the segment in the story you just watched and place you right in Leonard’s shoes, confused.

Every time Leonard is confused, your confused.  As he looks around his environment wondering where he is, who he’s with, and why he’s here, you do the same, because you haven’t seen what happened before that point in the story, only after.  In this way, you have no short term memory in Memento’s universe just like Leonard.

To check out, in more detail, the editing techniques used look here.

This is the kind of film-making I love, where the camera is used as a tool in the story rather than just a recorder.  While there still exists simple movies that don’t use the camera as a tool, more and more media these days are trying to be more inventive with its techniques.  For example, Arrival, a film form last year (2016), did a wonderful job with using film to break our concept of time in a different way.  Films give us the opportunity to show ideas and emotions in inventive ways that are not possible in everyday life and normal reality.  Why then, show simple stories that could be performed in front of you, when you can literally do impossible things that can only exist in the medium of film?

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11 Responses to Memento: Using Film Making as a Tool Rather than Just a Medium

  1. mediaphiles says:

    If I am understanding this correctly you prefer them to use the camera as a tool in the story rather than just a recorder. If so this sort of reminds me of the movie Paranormal Activities which is also a Thriller film. It seems as if a lot of thrillers use the camera as tools in their film making.

    John Armstrong

  2. mediaphiles says:

    I thought it was really effective how you addressed how the camera was used, while sharing examples of exactly how it enhances rather than just captures the plot. From not having seen the movie, I think you did a great job of succinctly explaining how this technique and choice was used in the film and you provide great context to support your reasoning.

    Catherine Maier

  3. mediaphiles says:

    Memento is one of my favorite films and I’m glad to see someone else appreciate the camerawork and editing used in such a spectacular way. I think Saving Private Ryan also does a great job of using this technique, especially in the opening battle scene, with the slow shutter speeds and first-person perspective shots. Of course, not all films need the camera to be so involved in the plot, but if used correctly it can create really engaging films.

    Cal Parsons

  4. mediaphiles says:

    I’ve never seen Memento, but I’d like to after hearing your description. I agree that it may seem frustrating for a character to continue to forget things. In an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, the surgeons deal with a woman who forgets things every 90 seconds. It gets old pretty quickly! However, the backwards storytelling technique of Memento sound super engaging, more so than the episode of Grey’s.

    Caitlin Herlihy

  5. mediaphiles says:

    Memento is one of those films that definitely turned me to make films of my own. It’s such an inspiring and unique story. It’s not only good camera work, it’s wonderful story telling. Some video art directors employ similar methods with the camera, even going so far as to destroy the camera while it’s filming. Dang

    Russell Lawrence

  6. mediaphiles says:

    I love the film Memento and I think your analysis of it is great. This movie showcases the immense talent of Christopher Nolan. Your analysis of the camera work is really well done and you do a great job of explaining the filming in a way that will make even those who haven’t seen the film understand and appreciate it.

    -Walker Rise

  7. mediaphiles says:

    It’s cool that you like the filmmaking aspects of Memento. I have never seen the film, but want to now that you have described the uniqueness of its storytelling and the facts that the audience gets confused just as Leonard does
    -Jordan Hansgen

  8. mediaphiles says:

    This is here just as a reminder that this post is by me, because I forgot to include a byline.

    -Jake Fallin

  9. mediaphiles says:

    I really enjoyed this post, especially after Tuesday’s class when we discussed similar topics. I am currently binge watching This Is Us and even though I love the show, I sometimes have a hard time connecting with the characters. I wish the director would use the camera to enhance the plot, such as in Memento.

    Katherine Naylor

  10. mediaphiles says:

    I love how the film uses innovative narration structure to create the short term memory situation for the audience, an illusion for the audience to experience. I think this goes along with our class on Tuesday and the “shadows on the wall” metaphor. Movies are, in a sense, all illusions captured from the reality, and I love it when filmmakers consciously craft the illusion.

    -Kevin Yu

  11. marymdalton says:

    Excellent post.

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