Hyperreal world of Leonard
Light! Camera! Action!
The name Christopher Nolan is linked to great movies that have made history in the late 21st century. Memento is one of the greatest Hollywood movies by this fine director. This was where his directorial stardom commenced from. This American mind-bending thriller film is considered as a neo-noir psychological thriller film, which tells a crime story that is presented with suspense and high voltage drama.
Memento, released in 2000, is inspired by the short story called 'Memento Mori' by Nolan's brother, Jonathan Nolan. According to movie lovers, it is a must watch for those who want innovation and aesthetic richness of post-modern culture in a movie.
This masterpiece is a defiant change from the typicality of filmmaking through its spectacular presentation of narrative style, plot, editing and characterization. It features various postmodern elements like hyperreality, outcome of technology, late capitalism, multiple realities, simulacra, uncertainty, pastiche, irony, optimism, aura and black humour.
Through the nonlinear narration and temporal distortion in plot, Nolan takes the audiences on a trip deep into the confusing, hyperreal world of Leonard, where he has constructed his own identity by numerous tattoos on his body, notes and photographs that help him deal with amnesia. Hyperreality, a term coined by the philosopher Jean Baudrillard, a symptom of post modern culture where a person loses his/her ability to distinguish real from the unreal, is a theme throughout the journey of the lead character.
Memento is a story that revolves around a deeply unsettled man, Leonard, played by the Australian actor Guy Pearce, who is suffering from a disease called anterograde amnesia after a severe head injury. He is searching for the man who raped and killed his wife. Because of his injury, caused by his wife's killer while he was trying to save her, he cannot make new memories.
This unique story of a victim of short term memory loss is not as simple as how it seems in the beginning. It is Nolan's brilliance that makes the presentation seem so effortless. The main story starts by travelling back in time; the secondary story comes in, cuts between the two timelines and joins them together, creating massive confusion for some viewers. This is an instance of temporal distortion in a plot.
Nolan uses complex editing techniques that manipulate time and space. For example, the film starts with a Polaroid photograph of blood, which gradually fades away, followed by the opening scene playing backwards. The fading photograph indicates the unforgiving reality of technology that the blood, which can be considered as the symbol of pain, is being captured vividly.
At first, it seems like the troubled protagonist is on a hunt for his wife's killer. But, as the story unravels, it is revealed that he himself is the killer, who has repressed his own crime to avoid guilt and to pursue a reality of his own making. Using advanced technology, he successfully deals with the disease and also changes his own truth. Late capitalism is the term that fits here. Because, the consumer society would rather accept the story Leonard made up about finding the mysterious murderer.
Sammy is a fictional character whose story is the blend of the real Sammy and Leonard's repressed memories. This supports the post modern idea of multiple realities, making our own truth and truth as we believe it to be quite different yet real.
A tattoo that says, 'Remember Sammy Jenkins' is the most significant tattoo on Leonard's body. It leads him to believe that there is a person called Sammy who suffers from the same disease as Leonard and has confessed to killing his own wife. Nolan put stupendous effort into character development here. Just these two characters, Leonard and Sammy, could reflect the whole movie if they were observed carefully.
The character of Sammy is an ideal representation of Simulacra, also coined by Jean Baudrillard, since it designates a copy from the original and represents the copy as the original. In this process, the originality is erased just like the character Sammy. The audience could ask whether the disease was the common link that made Leonard create a tattoo of Sammy or whether there was another reason. The answer to this remains unclear.
Leonard also represents the idea of uncertainty, irony and optimism of post modern art. His life is quite uncertain as he depends on notes and tattoos, but even in this state he is not losing his optimism and leading his life according to his own sense of truth. His character itself is an irony, because he has a hidden, contradictory truth in his mind.
In the thriller scenes of Memento, pastiche- which means referencing of one scene in another scene- is a recurring theme. In this film, the director portrayed pastiche by making those scenes in black and white. Black humour is also presented through Leonard's disease by making fun of the character.
Showing the concluding at the very beginning, the film creates suspense among the audience and the anticipation stays throughout it. Even the end reveals itself in a confusing way that could quite possibly be interpreted differently.
Nolan's reverse action and fragmented scenes in Memento can also be interpreted as a trick to enter into the protagonist's mind, so that the audience would mess up the earlier scenes. The film is mystery to the audience that they would love to solve too.
The writer is studying at Department of English and Humanities, University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh