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what a film. five stars.
i often feel like i'm a bad person. i guess we all do, but i feel like i do more than most. perhaps that's selfish. perhaps that's a self fulfilling prophecy. hell, it's probably both.
because it's simple. it's smartly constructed and never loses track of the central idea. nolan is a filmmaker who, at his best, proves clarity is not the enemy of complexity - indeed it is it's closest ally. the rails are there, and they're perfectly straight lines. they're just designed a little differently to the ones we're used to. his most muddled, confusing work is the dark knight rises, and that's a straightforward superhero tale. memento, however, is a clear and easy to follow - even in the non-linear structure. you're not scrambling to find missing puzzle pieces, you're looking for the one piece that completes the puzzle. and when it's complete, the picture that stares back at you is certainly one to behold. what a film.
that key piece of information explains a lot of things. it explains my love of films that focus on morality, films that look at what we're capable of as individuals, and ask us to question the nature and purpose of good and evil.
otherwise, the audience won't pay attention when it goes off the rails. and go off the rails memento does. in fact, there are no rails. well, that's not entirely true. but the story sure feels like it when you're in the moment. there's timelines agogo, not just the two narratives that run in a different order, but flashbacks within scenes and cutaways within flashbacks, and pretty much every bonkers trick in the book. this story goes to so many places within such a short timespan it's a miracle no one left the cinema in the first minutes, and yet it holds together. why? because it's simple.
there's a misconception that those interested in the nature of evil are advocating it, which couldn't be farther from the truth. the best films that explore the human potential for evil advocate the paramount importance of the complete opposite.
it's extremely cinematic. the seedy neo-noir style, placing it very much in a post pulp fiction world (which we continue to live in today). it makes it almost disappointing that nolan's future works have been so high budget, because whilst his realism is appreciated in a blockbuster, applied to an already grimy story, it just heightens the tension. it's in vogue today to go heavy on the sepia tone and/or colour correction when doing your noiresque flick, but you need those grounded visuals to hold the story together. otherwise, the audience won't pay attention when it goes off the rails.
that's why some films ask us to question if we're capable of bad actions. if we assume we're incapable, then anything we do is good, then we don't have to try to be. and that's a dangerous thought pattern.
the film is episodic, with every chapter in leonard's story playing out as a small "act" within itself. not only does this prove that adhering to a strict 3 act structure in a 90 minute + movie can lead to a lot of dead air, it allows for a heck of a lot of story in the most economic way. the dialogue is terse, not a line wasted, and the performances are spot on. guy pearce and carrie ann moss are able to tell us so many stories with just a look in their eye. which is helpful, because that's an integral part of the story, too. not that it's just a smart script, well performed. it's extremely cinematic.
it's a tricky balance, though. you can get some films that attempt to "examine human nature" and just come off morally repugnant, nihilistic and exploitative. and due to my interest in explorations of morality, i hate those films perhaps more than most.
the setup could go either way. it could be all flash and no substance, using a storytelling hook as a replacement for a coherent theme, rather than as a device to explore one. luckily, this isn't the case. memento isn't so much a character study as an audience study, using the device of amnesia to contextualise and recontextualise how we relate to the characters on screen with the information that we have. the first, and most obvious advantage this gives us is it breaks the three act structure entirely. the film is episodic.
but when the topic is handled well, it can be extremely affecting. it gets to the heart of almost all art, and that is: why? why be good? why be bad? why even be? in the best hands, it affects us on a visceral level with uncomfortable scenes, and an intellectual one too, days after we've seen the picture.
directed by christopher nolan. it starts with leonard shelby finally catching, and killing, the man who killed and raped his wife. but there's a complication - he's not been able to generate a single memory since the incident. he's been making progress by writing notes down and learning to piece things together. and now we follow him back, his story playing out in chapters in reverse, to see how he finally achieved his goals. the setup could go either way.
i often feel like a bad person. i guess we all do. we must all do, from time to time, as we live our complex, shade of grey, very human lives. sometimes a film comes along that attacks that part of our brains so vividly and so passionately that it both horrifies you and inspires you in equal measure. that makes you glad to watch movies. that makes you glad to be alive, and determined not to waste it. the sort of film that if done right, can kickstart an artistic career, and somehow speak personally to millions. i watched that film tonight.
and that film is memento. directed by christopher nolan.
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