Christopher Nolan's Memento was one of the most unique—and most notorious—films of 2001. Some people loved it, others hated it, but the majority were awed by the swirling sense of confusion that it engendered, which cleverly swept the audience into the world of Leonard (Guy Pearce), a Los Angeles man made desperate by tragedy and severe short-term memory loss. He must talk fast and act faster in order to not forget what's happening at any given moment. An example: as his memory fails while fleeing an armed attacker, Leonard decides that he was chasing the other man—with near disastrous results.
Director Nolan's ingenious conceit is to film the movie's scenes in reverse chronological order, with each episode leaping backward in time to end where the one before it began. In one instance, a femme-fatale named Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss) comes to Leonard with a fresh bruise on her face, and enlists his help against her abusive boyfriend. We subsequently learn that she tricked Leonard into hitting her, and invented the boyfriend story as soon as Leonard forgot that he put the bruise there. It isn't easy to follow and the concepts aren't watertight, but Memento provides a fascinating movie-going experience.
Pearce's character is an inverse of the upright lawman he played in L.A. Confidential. Indeed, Memento upends the hardboiled detective story by having a confused antihero trying to establish truth and punish the guilty. His white-hot pursuit of justice is at total odds with his constantly fading perception of the here-and-now. The last thing Leonard remembers is that his wife was raped and murdered and that he wants revenge at any cost. Leonard's reality is constituted by “memento” notecards, Polaroid snapshots, and occasional flashbacks to his earlier life before the amnesiac attack. When he thinks something's truly important, he tattoos the information on his body. Everyone Leonard stumbles across takes advantage of his condition (which, by the way, he can't stop talking about), from the shifty motel manager who switches Leonard's rooms around to self-interested Natalie and a sneaky cop friend (Joe Pantoliano).
Memento expands cinematic possibilities. It remains taut, edgy, and entertaining, even as it boldly stakes new narrative territory.