30-Day Film Challenge – Day 2

Posted: June 11, 2021 in Uncategorized

Well, I made it to Day 2, at least. It’s not nothing.

A film that you like that starts with the first letter of your name. I said yesterday that I might pick my first name or my last name, since many people refer to me by my last name. I often do this myself, if the moment calls for it. Like Jimmy on Seinfeld, which then spread to George, which birthed one of my favorite lines, often repeated by me, “George is gettin’ upset!”

Anyway, I went the boring route and picked my first name, because the first film that spring to mind was Christopher Nolan’s quirky masterpiece Memento. It’s a movie a thoroughly enjoy, and was pretty popular when it was released in 2000, so much so that everyone was talking about it and I remember thinking, “Pffft, it can’t be that good,” and so waited to watch it on DVD. Like a dope. Because it is very, very good.

If you look it up on IMDB, the tagline says, “A man with short-term memory loss attempts to track down his wife’s murderer.” While that is the plot, of course, that tells you absolutely nothing about why you should watch this movie. Especially if you are interested in film or analyzing film, or how stories are told, or cool things in general. This movie is covered in a lot of screenwriting classes, and I believe Philosophy courses, but since I never took one of those, let’s go with the screenwriting stuff.

To go along with the short-term memory loss theme, Nolan tells the main story in reverse, as we follow Leonard (Guy Pearce) trying to find his wife’s murderer and kill them. This proves difficult for a guy who can’t make new memories, so he drives around taking polaroids of everyone and writing pertinent information on them, and if he finds out something really big, he tattoos that info on himself with ink from a Bic pen. I don’t know if that’s even possible, but it’s pretty cool, anyway. Remember, while it seems mundane for a movie plot (“Guy hunting wife’s killer.” Every Segal movie, right?), remember that this story is told in reverse.

A quick note on movies that are structurally out of order, like this one, or something like Pulp Fiction, as far as basic screenplay structure goes, they almost always still follow the basic, 3-act structure that is taught in every screenwriting class in the world. It’s actually quite a feat of writing to tell a story this way, not reveal or spoil or mess up any major plot points, and still do what your screenwriting teacher is telling you to do. If you never covered this in high school English, talking about Shakespeare, the breakdown is like this; in a 90-page screenplay, which is pretty much a 90-minute movie, the first act should last around 30 pages, and right around page thirty should be your big turn or big moment (In Die Hard, the terrorists take over Nakatomi Plaza and John McLane is left alone to stop them at the end of the first act.) The second act, or the middle 60 pages or so of the script, is where a good chunk of action takes place. In Avengers; Endgame, it’s where the good guys begin their time heist and go to get the Infinity Stones. Of course, Endgame is a three-hour epic, so the page numbering is different, but it’s still following the structure. (For my money, this is where most movies fall apart and get kind of boring. But that’s a different post) The third act is the finale and falling action. To use Endgame again… “On your left.”

Crazily enough, Memento also follows this structure. The “end,” is shown at the beginning and we work our way backwards, but it is where you enter the story as an audience member. When you finally see the inciting event, at the actual end of the movie, it changes how you have viewed everything else (and let’s face it, it’s incredibly sad), and so that is the climax. But for Leonard, the story does not end.

The other part of the movie, told in proper chronological order, thankfully, is the flashbacks of Leonard, pre-short-term memory loss and pre-murdered wife, where we recalls his life as an insurance claims investigator. He investigated someone who had short-term memory loss, and apparently denied his claim because he thought he was faking. This drove the guy’s wife crazy and, we are told, eventually to suicide. But it gets slightly convoluted at times. Is this person actually Leonard? Is his memory loss worse than we are told. He’s basically the world’s most unreliable narrator.

I’m not going to spoil this one anymore because it’s just too good. For most movies that are over twenty years old, I say go ahead and sing the major plot points form the heavens. Darth Vader was Luke’s father! Bruce Willis was dead all along! Who cares? But, for Memento, you really just need to watch it, all the way through, beginning to end. Whatever that means. Not only is it an excellently-made movie, perfectly paced and well-acted, but you see the beginnings of the career of one of the great filmmakers of our time. A man who would go on to re-invent a tired Batman franchise, and make them into not just great comic book movies but great movies, and in between those three movies, squeeze in two other amazing movies, including Inception, which basically changed how a lot of movies were filmed. He then played with structure again with Dunkirk, telling three stories of one battle of World War II. Now, shame on me for not seeing Tenet yet, but I’m betting it’s amazing.

I know I haven’t written a lot about the actual movie, but that’s because you should really just watch it. Even if you’ve seen it already. Watch it over and over. And if you can find the Region 2 DVD, or the limited edition, there’s a version hidden on there where you can watch the movie in chronological order, but you have to get a series of questions right in order to get to it. Who but Christopher Nolan would do that?

Thanks for checking out Day 2. Remember, check out my linktree to find out what else I’m up to. And there’s podcasts I’m on here, a comic I created here, and t-shirts and stuff I “created” here. Come back tomorrow for a movie with more than five words (presumably in the title.) Huh.

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