Memento On DVD
When Leonard Shelby's house is broken into and his wife murdered, he sustains a serious head injury in the scuffle. While his knowledge of events prior to the incident remains clear, from the attack forward he has no short-term memory. He can recall events for only a few moments before they disappear from his mind forever. The only way he can remember his car, where he is living, or his recent acquaintances is with notes, many of them written on photographs or engraved as bizarre tattoos all over his body.
Despite this handicap, he's on a quest to find his wife's murderer. As he chases down lead after lead, he has to keep referring to his notes to remember where he is and what is happening to him. In one scene, he finds himself chasing a man only to realize that the man is chasing him. In another, he tries to keep focused on an important incident while searching frantically for a pen to write it down.
Director Christopher Nolan weaves an even more tangled web by telling the story backward. By providing us with information in reverse order, he subjects the audience to some of the same mental confusion that afflicts Leonard. Because of this unusual structure, many critics commended Memento for its originality. While starting a narrative at the end and working backward has been used in the past (most recently in one of the best episodes of the TV sitcom Seinfeld), it is no less intriguing for that and is cleverly done here. Expect to see Memento pop up on many critics' ten-best lists come December.
Memento is a small, independent film; I didn't expect much in the way of technical quality from it, but was surprised to find that the DVD actually looks better than my recollection of the run-of-the-mill print I saw in a run-of-the-mill theater. The print was grainy; the DVD is not. On the big screen, the production looked like the low-budget effort it likely was. The DVD doesn't exactly look like Gandhi, but it's clean, sharp, and free of serious edge enhancement and digital artifacts. The sound isn't often spectacular, but there's some impressive deep bass, and the dynamic range will knock you out of your chair more than once.
The extras are sparse: an interview with the director; a theatrical trailer and TV spot; a trailer for Nolan's first film, Following; a tattoo gallery; and the text of the short story that inspired the film—mostly forgettable stuff.
Fortunately, the film is not. Memento is one of those small gems, released during the mid-spring doldrums, when good films are rare, that creates a stir. I expect the DVD to do the same.