Saturday, February 5, 2011

Screening: Memento at the Egyptian Theatre with Writer/Director Christopher Nolan

In honor of the film's Blu-Ray release, the Egyptian Theatre presented Memento on the big screen last night, followed by a chat with writer/director Christopher Nolan and guest moderator Guillermo del Toro.

Memento (Newmarket Films, 2000)
Starring Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano
Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan
Nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Original Screenplay (Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan) and Best Editing (Dody Dorn)

Winner, Best Screenplay: AFI (Screenwriter of the Year), Boston Society of Film Critics, Broadcast Film Critics Association, Chicago Film Critics Association, Florida Film Critics Circle, Independent Spirit Awards, Las Vegas Film Critics Society, London Critics Circle (British Screenwriter of the Year), Los Angeles Film Critics, Online Film Critics Society, Phoenix Film Critics Society, Southeastern Film Critics Society, Sundance Film Festival (Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award), Toronto Film Critics Association.

Guy Pearce is Leonard Shelby, a man whose life has gone from ridiculously normal to off-the-charts insane after his wife's murder.  Now he's obsessively seeking revenge...despite the inability to make and keep new memories, a result of the head wound he suffered trying to fight off his wife's attackers.

Leonard is convinced he's found a system to work around his disability.  Said system involves Polaroid pictures, keeping copious records and tattooing really important information on his body.

Memento famously plays out in reverse, in segments.  It's a film you have to really watch and pay attention to or you're going to get hopelessly lost.  But it's ultimately worth the effort to find out how Leonard gets to the point we see him at in the opening (shooting and killing a man) as the film slowly reveals what set the murder in action.  You get to see the ending at the beginning, then retroactively take the journey to that ending through Leonard's fractured, short-term mind.

As a moderator, I would have like to have heard del Toro talking less and prompting the man of the moment to talk more.  But as in Memento, the soft-spoken Nolan is sparse yet incredibly efficient in his dialogue.  As someone who loves overwriting dialogue, I can tell you that there is not one line of Memento that doesn't serve a purpose.  I got the idea that like his work in this film, Nolan isn't necessarily a man of few words, but just a man (and writer) of only as many words as are necessary.

Some Memento trivia:
  • The idea came from Nolan's brother, Jonathan, who wanted to write a story about a man with Anterograde Amnesia, a condition caused by damage to the hippocampus, resulting in the inablity to retain post-injury memories.  They discussed it extensively while on a road trip from Chicago to Los Angeles and decided each would write his own version.  Christopher wrote the Memento screenplay, while Jonathan wrote a short story (Memento Mori) that was evenutally published in Esquire and in an O. Henry collection.  Nolan stated that he considers his brother to be the true writer in the family.
  • Although Memento is widely believed to have been based on Jonathan's short story, Memento Mori was not actually completed or published until about the time the film was released, making the screenplay original rather than adapted.
  • Carrie-Anne Moss was the first actor cast.  She was friends with Joe Pantoliano and helped bring him on board.
  • Nolan had envisioned someone older as Leonard Shelby, but Pearce's insistent commitment to the role and project won him over.
  • The film was shot in 25 days.
  • Blade Runner's influence on Memento: Hugely influential on Nolan, who saw it just as he was getting into filmmaking.  Nolan referenced Ridley Scott's stated belief that Rick Deckard was a replicant despite the fact the film never reveals it; this tenuous grasp on identity definitely informed Nolan's take on the character of Leonard Shelby, a man who, as the film repeatedly states, knows who he was but not who he has become.
  • Memento has a staggering 93% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
Del Toro touched on Pearce's "restlessness" as an actor; Nolan concurred and added that he thinks that's a quality possessed by the best actors.  It made me think of this quote from James Cagney, on the craft of acting: "Never relax.  If you relax, the audience relaxes."  And Leonard Shelby is never still, he never slows from his mission of revenge, one of the things about Memento that keeps the audience riveted and invested in this strangely told tale.  They also discussed the issue of Leonard as an unreliable narrator and attributed it to the noir genre as much as to Leonard's brain-damaged condition.

Memento will screen nationwide for one night later this month.  The Q&A with Nolan and del Toro was filmed and will be included in the screenings.  Check your local listings, as they say.

The only thing that struck me as really odd was that there was absolutely no mention all evening of Team Todd (producing/sister team Suzanne and Jennifer Todd).  Not sure why.

Fuzzy Crackberry photo of Egyptian Theatre is fuzzy.


No comments: