Still from Memento, Image from filmlinc.org
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?