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Memento: 10th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray Review)

18 Feb, 2011 By: John Latchem

Street 2/22/11
$19.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for violence, language and some drug content.
Stars Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano.

Many movies use time-shifting narratives to artificially induce audience interest in stories or characters that otherwise would be relatively dull. (I’m looking at you Reservoir Dogs.) But with Christopher Nolan’s 2001 breakthrough film Memento, the structure becomes the point.

Nolan had already experimented with non-linear storytelling in his first film, 1998’s little-seen Following, about a writer who seeks inspiration by following random people. Its protagonist is eventually called out by a shady character who ensnares him in a murder plot. The movie jumps back and forth between various events to reveal just enough information to keep the audience guessing about everyone’s true motives. Letting the events play out chronologically, however, isn’t as interesting. According to Nolan, he liked the idea of treating film as a memory, looking back at different pieces of an event to place them in a greater context.

In Memento, Christopher Nolan took the concept of time-shifting narratives to another level. The modern classic tells the simple story of a man seeking to avenge his wife’s murder. But Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) suffers from anterograde amnesia, a condition that prevents him from making new memories. He remembers only what happened before the assault on his wife, and thus must leave himself copious notes (usually tattooed on his body) so he can more or less function in society.

The film begins with Leonard murdering Teddy (Joe Pantoliano), then guides us through the events that led to this point through two narrative timelines. One, presented in black-and-white, advances forward in time, providing needed background exposition and representing Leonard’s permanent memory. The other thread, presented in color, progresses backward. The movie shifts between the black-and-white and color scenes, so that each color scene ends with the scene that led off the previous sequence, with the timelines converging toward the end.

The result effectively aligns the viewer with Leonard’s point of view, since the audience is just as confused as he is in deciphering events that aren’t always as they appear. But while the story focuses on a murder, that’s not really what the film is about.

Nolan has provided a case study about how our identities are shaped by our experiences. Trapped by the circumstances of his condition, Leonard must constantly reorganize his worldview, living out an endless cycle in which he unknowingly and continuously alters the purpose of his own existence. Leonard is thus a man defined by the moment, but unable to grow beyond his past, which is ultimately what makes him such a tragic figure.

Viewing Following and Memento in the context of Nolan’s later works, it’s pretty easy to see which gears are spinning in his head. Both are textbook examples of how the language of film can be used to manipulate audience perceptions. (Nolan would continue to manipulate structural concepts in other films, most notably The Prestige.)

When viewed in chronological order (an option available on an earlier DVD, but not this Blu-ray), Memento’s tragic elements are still evident, though it’s more easily seen as the story of a strange man being used by those around him. Having this greater understanding of the bigger picture makes Memento a different film on subsequent viewings, but you could watch it 10 times and still not fully get your head around everything at play here.

The film still holds up quite well 10 years later, but what jumps out about this new Blu-ray is how much brighter the image seems than even Sony’s Blu-ray version from 2006. Aside from a few specs of dirt, the picture is clear and crisp, filled with vibrant skin tones and deep shadows.

In terms of extras, this 10th anniversary Blu-ray is basically an amalgam of all the previous releases. The only new extra is a retrospective interview that runs just under eight minutes in which Nolan briefly reflects on the film’s impact on his career and his evolving notions of subjective vs. objective filmmaking.

The disc also includes the half-hour “Anatomy of a Scene” making-of program and Nolan’s commentary that were included with the limited-edition DVD from 2002 and the first Blu-ray. The commentary is unique in that there are three different versions of the final half-hour, a trait that carries over from the DVD, though the one that plays is selected at random.

Included from the original DVD from 2001 is Nolan’s IFC interview. It’s an insightful piece in which Nolan discusses his fascination with the idea of an unreliable narrator and finding a credible way to build a story around one. In one interesting passage, he dismisses the idea of a dream-state as uninteresting, though this would later form the core concept for Inception.

This Blu-ray also contains original DVD material such as Jonathan Nolan’s short story Memento Mori, upon which the film is loosely based, as well as a tattoo gallery and a re-creation of Leonard’s journal.

Not making the cut this time around are various production art galleries and a copy of the script. Nor does it have a complicated menu of the limited-edition DVD, a psych-test that required secret codes to unlock many of the features, leaving frustrated fans turning to the Internet to unlock the mystery of how to just play the movie.

It’s a shame the Blu-ray doesn’t include the chronological version, since one would think re-branching the film would be well within the bounds of Blu-ray’s advanced capacity.

So, while Lionsgate’s Blu-ray is definitely an upgrade from the Sony Blu-ray, anyone who already owns the previous iterations of the disc might be hard pressed to buy it again. But its timing is perfect for anyone looking to enhance their Nolan libraries in the wake of The Dark Knight and Inception.

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