Memento is a puzzle movie. As a puzzle movie, it forces us to watch it a different way from most films: alert, even tense, constantly sifting through what we see and hear for clues as to what's going on, keeping mental tabs on what might be potential double-crosses. The twist is that the film is also about this mindset. This should make it a beloved film among academics, who love writing theses about how the form of the text in question echoes the content and vice versa.

It's also about memory, about the extent to which our identities are comprised of our life stories, and the extent to which our ability to function depends on that sense of self. This interests me in that it's the justification I gave in my valedictory speech at Berkeley for majoring in English: narrative goes beyond a class of works that, while often achieving lofty artistic goals, are still, at the end of the day, entertainment. Narrative is also how we understand history, for example; cutting to the chase, narrative is how we understand ourselves. And memory is of course what provides the material for that self-narrative. (An aside: people seem to think that I have this incredible memory because I know, for example, that I met Douglas Coupland (from whom I nicked most of the narrative schtick above) on 02 March 1994, that on 01 July 1987 I watched the Democratic presidental debate from my hotel room in San Diego and that there was a TV writers' strike on, that sort of thing. I probably do have an above-average memory, but it's nothing prodigious and it's certainly not photographic. I just happen to date-stamp stuff.) So, yeah, the movie is compelling moment to moment, and also leaves us with tons of stuff to think about. But...

...but, the one thing that it doesn't do is care much about fleshing out the characters the protagonist deals with in the main plot. For the most part, they're playing pieces, and our chief interest in them is trying to ascertain whether they're good guys or bad guys, whether they're trying to help the protagonist or hurt him. Who they are as people doesn't seem to be a concern of the filmmakers — they're not making a people movie, they're making a puzzle movie. And it's a great puzzle, absorbing while it's going on with an answer that's satisfying and raises lots of questions to ponder, etc... but it still feels a little empty.

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