MEMENTO written and directed by Christopher Nolan, based on a short story by Jonathan Nolan, produced by Jennifer Todd and Suzanne Todd, with Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano. A Newmarket Films production. 113 minutes. Opens Friday (March 30). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 82. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
christopher nolan is red hot.
He bagged the screenwriting award at Sundance last January and just signed on to direct Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank in a remake of the 1997 Norwegian thriller Insomnia.
Last fall, at the Toronto International Film Festival, it was still easy to get an interview with him. His second independent film, Memento, had only screened at two other festivals and was flying well under the celebrity radar that directs most festivalgoers' attention.
People who got to see it lucked out. Memento messes with your brain in an extremely enjoyable way (see mini-review, page 85).
But unfortunately for Nolan, smart people and their work are often misunderstood.
"I've heard the word "challenging' so many times this week," sighs Nolan, who's as smart in person as he is at his craft.
"I think that word is becoming a tremendous pejorative in the same way the word "interesting' became a pejorative. To me, I don't think of Memento as challenging the audience -- I think of it as giving the audience a compliment."
In case you can't tell from a word like pejorative, Nolan is British, University College London-educated, can use "whom" correctly and says gracious things about his brother, who he claims is a better writer than he is.
It was his brother's short story that gave him the inspiration for Memento.
"It contains the core idea of a man with no short-term memory looking for revenge, using his body to record information. He told me the story as we were driving from Chicago to Los Angeles. I immediately asked him if I could make a film from it."
Nolan turns the idea inside out, both by telling the story backwards and by deconstructing its main themes.
"I like to think that the film is subversive in its approach to the revenge element of the story," he explains. "In the worst examples of the revenge genre, the revenge element is incredibly oversimplified. It's all about the suffering of that person who first must die so the hero can triumph.
"Gladiator is a good example. Here's the beautiful wife -- wsshhht, she's gone. I enjoyed the movie, but I felt guilty enjoying it because I've been thinking about this so much."
Memento makes a point of asking questions about how memory works.
"We think of our memories as recording devices, and they're not at all. I argue with my wife about what we said five minutes ago, and we both are absolutely convinced we're right."
To get the details of short-term memory loss right, Nolan says he did just enough research "to know how little we really know about memory."
He becomes giddy describing the difference between conditioning and short-term memory.
But Nolan isn't about to switch careers and become a neuroscientist any time soon. He identifies with his protagonist.
"He has one thing he wants to do and wouldn't know what to do if it was taken away from him."
Writer/director Christopher Nolan