He’s a Real Nowhere Man: Memento Film Review

by Katharine Elizabeth Monahan Huntley

ₚₕₒₜₒ by ⱼₐₙₑ ₘ. Gₐᵣᵣᵢₛₒₙ

How can you read that again? . . . You’ve read it a hundred times.

I enjoy it.

Yeah, but the pleasure of a book is in wanting to know what happens next. 

Ironic words coming from writer/director Christopher Nolan. The thrill of the unusual, yet captivating, storytelling style of Memento, based upon brother Jonathan Nolan’s short story, is in wanting to know what happens first.

The story backtracks, end to beginning. It sidesteps, omits, and misleads as well. Leonard, an insurance claims investigator, is determined to avenge his wife’s rape and murder. Problematic, as he suffered a head injury during the incident and has no short-term memory.

I know who I am and all about myself, but . . . I can’t make any new memories. Everything fades. If we talk for too long, I’ll forget how we started. I don’t know if we’ve ever met before, and the next time I see you I won’t remember this conversation.

Cool blue hues color Leonard’s world of loss. He navigates his “romantic quest which [he] will not end” with tattoos, handwritten notes, charts, and Polaroids. Users and losers are on hand to lend menace, pathos, and sardonic humor. Femme fatales look vaguely the same: opaque-eyed and contemptuous. Including Leonard’s dead (if she is indeed) wife.
Tragedy thrives in the burnt embers of her mementos—the love that he “can’t remember to forget.”

What’s the last thing you remember?
My wife.

Leonard is damaged and damned—a man with no context.

I have to believe in the world outside my own mind. I have to believe my actions still have meaning, even if I can’t remember them. I have to believe that when my eyes are closed, the world’s still out there.

Certain to become, at the very least, a cult classic, Memento is reminiscent of other noirish films like Blade RunnerBlow Up, and Double Indemnity. The line between reel and real life blurs after I exit the movie theater, right into Memento’s world. You see, the Limbo Land in which Leonard chases ghosts, is the neighborhood I live in.

All quotations from the Memento shooting script.

“Natalie’s House”

This dilapidated house located on Magnolia Blvd. in Burbank is inhabited by a cranky old man who does not take well to nosy parker neighbors peering in his windows. Look closely in the film and you can see his pastel portrait hanging on the living room wall. (By the way, that’s Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia Blvd., as well.) The neighborhood is also home to Memento film crew member Corey Geryak, a dynamo (Lunge Queen JoDee), and their towhead sons.

(pictured at top of page)
Local watering hole where Natalie tends bar. In reality, it’s Burbank’s The Blue Room, where Lew pours lethal Lemon Drop cocktails—and Judi serves them up with a side of bitter. The Blue Room is (in)famous for its annual New Year’s Eve shindig.