Saturday, March 5, 2011

Putting the "Meh" in Memento (2000)

I have no strong feelings about Memento, not one. I can maybe manage a little respect for its uniqueness in structure and plot, and well as its relatively realistic take on short term memory, but that is about it.

Last Tuesday I viewed this so-called masterpiece for the first time, and after is was all done, I could not for the life of me figure out what the big deal was. It wasn't that I despised or even disliked it: I felt nothing, just a desire to get some homework done.

Considering, there is nothing really wrong with this movie. The acting is....okay, and the plot is....creative, and.....wait, wait, let me back up:

Memento, in case you don't know, is about Leonard Shelby (a bleach-blonde Guy Pearce), who has a form of amnesia that prevents him from keeping new memories. The film's gimmick is that it is told backwards, with segments lasting as long as Shelby's short term memory. On top of that, intercut throughout is a black-and-white sequence of Pearce in a hotel room, talking on the phone. Eventually, it comes together in the end.

Now, I have never had a great interest in seeing this film. There was always some other I could think of that I wanted to see more. But I was invited by a group of friends, and I thought: "Why not? I might as well see what the big deal is."

And after my first viewing, after going through the twists and turns of the plot, do you know what my reaction was? "Meh". Just "meh". As in "I've seen better, I've seen worse. What's for dinner?"

You see, I can usually figure out my true feeling about a movie from how I feel afterwards. If it is something I really like, such as The Set-Up or Re-Animator, I get energetic. I feel like jumping off walls, running through my dorm, calling out to the world that what I watched was amazing. Or, if what I saw was pensive and/or dark, I feel myself grow a bit serious, and mull over what I just watched, piecing together how great it was. As for bad films....I either get really tired or really angry, depending on what remains of energy I have left over from the experience.

But with "meh" movies, I just don't feel anything. Nada. Zip. I have no enthusiasm or even a feeling of nihilism. Even when I can think of numerous positive aspects of the film from the top of my head, I can't bring my self to say that I thought it was really good.

Memento fits this to a tee. Guy Pearce was good, but then again he gives pretty much the same performance as in The Time Machine and L.A. Confidential. The rest of the cast, were good, but then again they were not that memorable, and I continually thought that other actors could have inhabited the roles just as well.

The script was literate, and had a couple of really good lines (my personal favorite being from Pierce: "Oh, I'm chasing this, he's chasing me." It makes sense in context.

The plot was I guess interesting: less of a Who-Dunnit than a Head-Scracher. Some reviews have chosen to call it a Neo-Noir, and I can see where they are coming from: The (really) confused male protagonist with a past, the mysterious woman that helps him, a murder within the first 5 minutes, etc.

In fact, to me, the beginning was the film's highlight. You first see a Polaroid picture being shaken repeatedly, but instead of getting sharper, it fades away to nothingness, a perfect metaphor for the protagonist's memory throughout the film.

The reverse telling of the story is unique, forcing the viewer to put together the plot as if it were pieces of a picture-less puzzle. The end result is clever, but perhaps too clever for its own good. At the end of the film, my first reactions were less of excitement than of frustration, which then quickly ebbed away to nothingness I did not enjoy this film, I survived it. I was shown a cool premise told backwards, and nothing more. So now, if someone asks me what I thought of the great Memento, all I will be able to say is: "Meh, I've seen better, I've seen worse."

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