Memento: An Eternal Memory Of Film Noir

1985 words - 8 pages

Film noir as a genre began in America following the Great Depression with a visual style reminiscent of German Expressionist cinematography. It reflects the time’s general sense of pessimism, cynicism, and dark confusion. It became widely known for its psychologically expressive approach to visual composition and many definitive stylistic elements. The use of dark and white lighting, a morally ambiguous protagonist, loose plotlines, a corrupt authority figure, and a femme fatale character were among its defining features. Neo noir, a sub-genre of the classic definition, utilizes the core elements of film noir but with evolved characteristics better suited to contemporary society, particularly toward technological advances. Christopher Nolan’s neo noir psychological thriller Memento (2000) encompasses many of the widely known characteristics of classical film noir in a unique way. Its form, narrative, cinematography, and mise-en-scene show its undeniable place among modern neo noir film. It tells the story of Leonard (Guy Pearce), a grief stricken man in search of his wife’s killer—the same person responsible for his short-term memory loss leaving him frozen in time. Although he cannot make new memories, he attempts to seek vengeance for his wife’s murder with the help of reminders he leaves for himself, including polaroids with notes scrawled in the margins and tattoos covering his body. Among his notes are important people he meets, including Teddy (Joe Pantoliano), the corrupt police officer and Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss), the femme fatal with suspicious motives.
The film’s use of neo noir conventions is made evident right from the opening scene. It opens with a man fanning out a polaroid. In the picture is a body laying face down in a pool of blood. As the man shakes the picture, it becomes less clear, making it obvious that the scene is going backwards in time, foreshadowing the films’ disjointed narrative. It features non-diegetic music of string instruments playing a sad, slow melody, also setting the somber tone of the rest of the story. These along with canted camera angles make the viewer confused and disoriented—a feeling that the viewer will share with the protagonist throughout the entire film. As the scene plays out, we find that the man holding the polaroid is Leonard, the protagonist, and the man he killed is Teddy, the cop assisting in his investigation. Just before Leonard shoots him Teddy begs, “Let’s go down to the basement, you and me. Then you’ll know who you really are.” Instead of going, however, Leonard fatally shoots Teddy, giving the viewer the sense of mystery that may never be solved. While this is the only scene that plays backwards, it quickly becomes apparent that it is important in setting the film’s narrative structure. After the murder in the polaroid is played backwards, the film immediately cuts to a black and white scene, a common element in film noir that accentuates Leonard’s constantly confused mental...

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