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Starring: Guy Pearce, Joe Pantoliano, Carrie-Anne Moss, Stephen Tobolowsky, and Jorja Fox
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Imagine, you wake up in a strange hotel room. There are notes pasted all over the wall, along with Polaroids of people you have never seen before. There are notes underneath the picture. You discover your entire body is tattooed with strange messages on your chest, arms, legs, stomach; all a puzzle with pieces that don't make sense to you. The last thing you remember is your wife on the bathroom floor with a shower curtain around her body, lying dead. You remember you have a condition that causes you to have short-term memory loss and you are trying to find the person responsible for the rape and murder of your wife. You begin reading the notes, looking at the Polaroids, writing down new information, tattooing yourself (even reminding yourself to shave your legs in order to tattoo a message there). And then, in the blink of an eye, you can't remember what just happened. Imagine, you're standing in a strange hotel room...
Director and writer Christopher Nolan, adapting a short story from his brother Jonathan Nolan, weaves together a strange and bizarre story of a man whose life is virtually destroyed by his devastating disability. Guy Pearce, best known for his performance in L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, delivers a powerhouse performance as Leonard Shelly, a man who suffers from short-term memory loss. He knows about his life before he witnessed the murder of his wife, but has absolutely no recollection of the life he's led afterwards. Before, he worked as an insurance claims investigator and lived a relatively normal life. But one night he hears his wife being brutally attacked and goes to her aide, only to be jumped from behind and knocked into the bathroom mirror. He lies on the floor, blood gushing from his head wound, as he stares into his wife's lifeless eyes as she lies on the floor beside him. Now he spends his life as a vigilante, attempting to track down the killer and writing down every piece of information he can and taking as many Polaroids as possible to help him when he forgets what has just transpired. But because of his condition, whom can he truly trust? Teddy (Pantoliano), a man who claims to be his friend, but very well could be the man who murdered his wife? Natalie, the woman with a bruised face who he meets in a diner who has information for him? (His picture of her has a note saying “She has also lost someone; She will help you out of pity”). Can he trust himself?
There is nothing particularly original about the vigilante story, but the twists and turns this film takes undoubtedly is the most original thing one will ever encounter while watching a film. A what is that? The story is told in reverse. But it's not the ending of Leonard's journey that will jolt your senses, but it's how his journey began that will have you in awe. Whenever one scene ends there is usually a short period in between which is shot in black and white. These scenes show Leonard talking on the phone about a case he had worked on concerning a man who also suffered from short-term memory loss. At first I thought this was a sub-plot helping me understand Leonard a little bit better, but even these scenes have their purposes, and the revelations about the man named 'Sammy' certainly gave me a sucker punch.
But it's impossible to describe the effect of the storytelling has on you. Some will probably find it obnoxious, but I believe many will embrace it and appreciate the vision of the story. We are always guessing, and like Leonard, are always kept guessing what just happened, instead of what is going to happen. It seems cruel because we are able to piece together everything as the film progresses, but we're still forced to watch this aimless soul running around in circles like a trapped mouse in a maze. What is just as interesting is learning the true motivations of the characters. People we thought we had formed an accurate opinion of turn around and surprise us with their true personality. It's pretty amazing to watch, and these scenes are executed brilliantly.
When all is said and done, the theme of the movie is that we all have a desire to live in a world of illusions, and those illusions are set up by us on our own accord. Many of us who see the future as bleak will instead set up mirrors to help us live a better life. Facing reality is often much harder than facing a fantasy. And believing that fantasy is true can be even more destructive. This is one of 2001's better films, and if the acting, script, and direction isn't recognized come award season next year, well than to say that will be a damn shame is an understatement. This type of film doesn't come along everyday, and Pearce's performance... you have to see it to believe it. You have to see it more than once to believe it.
Imagine, you wake up in a strange hotel room. There are notes pasted all over the wall...
My Grade: A+