Many psychological thrillers rely on twists to deliver their climactic pay-off. But director Christopher Nolan's brain-wringing psycho noir isn't just a movie with a twist - - it is a twist.
In his underseen, shoestring-budget debut Following, British writer/director Nolan jigsawed his narrative and chucked out the pieces in a non-chronological order, and Memento is very similar. But with his Hollywood-funded follow-up, the helmer has taken his cut `n' paste madness a step further. Each scene is exactly as long as the brain-damaged Leonard's (Guy Pearce) memory span, and we leap backwards from memory-episode to memory-episode, tracing his investigation sequentially from ending to beginning. So we open with Leonard at the end of his trail, taking a snap of a man he's just shot through the head, and wind up, well, at the beginning.
Furthermore, each episode is linked by fragments from a separate scene, shot in black-and-white, which sees Leonard talking on the phone in a non-descript motel room, relating the story of one of his insurance jobs which involved, oddly enough, another man suffering from short-term memory loss.
Needless to say, Memento is a film which requires concentration. You have to remember what's about to happen in order to follow what went before, while realising that Leonard's associates may be manipulating him for their own ends.
But don't let that put you off, as Nolan is more than happy to reward his audience for their careful attention. The nature of the concept, naturally, raises philosophical questions (time heals all wounds, but what if you have no sense of time?), but Nolan cranks up the suspense, keeps the story sharp and pacy, and isn't afraid to layer in a little ultra-black humour. The impact is insidious - chances are, your brain will be replaying this fiendish puzzle of a film for months to come.