Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Wait a minute, what were we talking about?

This possibly may be the definitive film noir. We follow Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) as he tracks down the man who raped and murdered his wife. However, Shelby was left with permanent short term memory loss as a result of an injury when trying to defend his wife ... and thereby hangs a fabulous piece of movie making as well as a fascinating story.

Director Christopher Nolan takes us through the movie backwards, beginning at the end and working his way to the beginning in short jumps of time. We are just in the dark as Shelby when he wakes each morning thinking, "Where am I? Hotel room ... ok ..." and begins to regain his place in time with the aid of body tatoos, polaroids with notes jotted on them, and various friends (or are they?) he encounters. At first the jumps cover comparatively long time periods to give us the knack of following the movie. Towards the end when we are in the rythym, the jumps become shorter and shorter as the essence of the mystery is revealed. Fascinating ... and, may I say, that Guy Pearce has never looked or acted better (as Hannah said, "A better looking Brad Pitt!")

There were a few plot holes but they may be forgiven considering the complexity of this piece. Indeed, they may be my own deficiency because this movie was moving so fast by the end (beginning?) that it occasionally was hard to think back and put various pieces in their proper places.

HC rating ...

Listen, we've been meaning to have a talk with you about your reviews. Everything's a rave! Nine thumbs up, what the hell is that? (newspaper editor to Homer)

UPDATE: Nehring the Edge adds a couple of comments that are so spot-on I am including them here.
The use of the forward moving hotel phone conversation (in black & white) as a buffer between the backward moving scenes of the rest of the film completely makes me geek out.

You are right, this is a dingy piece of existentialism and it does leave one heck of a sour aftertaste when you're done. If you haven't seen this film yet, approach with caution.
UPDATED UPDATE: Nehring's review is here. While I originally felt the same distaste for the ending and subject as Nehring mentions, I also think back to my conversation with Hannah after watching this movie. In some ways it is a fascinating look at one's capacity to lie to oneself and, ultimately, in how we deal with guilt ... whether we are consumed by it or whether we can accept reality as it is and move on to a better future. As Hannah pointed out, everyone in this movie has responsibility for how they wind up. Even the subplot about the wife who is desperately hoping to prove definitively whether or not her husband has short term memory loss is guilty of being stupid. She should have made up her mind and chosen a course of action and moved on. But she didn't.

When Leonard points out that memories lie and only documented facts can be trusted, he is right. He goes on to prove that point in a most unlikely way during the movie. But one must be sure they are not manipulating themselves, whether consciously or unconsciously.

So, in the end, there is a value lesson for those who care to contemplate the subject long enough to glean it ... though the sour taste may still be left in your mouth.

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