Silver Screen, Silver Tongue: Memento is Duplicitous

Memento

By Allen

About the Film

 

Year: 2000

Cast: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano

Director: Christopher Nolan Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

About the Word

Definition: du·plic·i·tous [du̇-ˈpli-sə-təs] adj.- deceptive in words or action: warned her not to trust the duplicitous art dealer

 

The Review

 

One does not go into Memento not anticipating a twist. Even if you’ve only seen his Dark Knight trilogy and Inception, you know that Christopher Nolan is no stranger to pulling the wool over his viewers’ eyes. His first big hit, Memento, is the epitome of this filmmaking style, and you come out of it almost violated by how duplicitous it is.

It starts out in medias res, placing you in one of the most intense scenes of the film, but played in reverse. By the time you have a general impression of what happened, the film then spends the next two hours trying to defy your expectations of that intense intro. The plot essentially concerns Guy Pearce’s character Leonard trying to piece together the identity of his wife’s killer, while dealing with his acute short-term memory loss issues. Even the characters are duplicitous and backhanded to Leonard; they spin his case in circles, lead him down incorrect paths, and make him feel like he’s wasting his time. In the brief moments where Leonard does make a breakthrough, it’s unclear if it was of his own volition, or due to the machinations of those around him.

A perfect example of this is Carrie-Anne Moss’s character, Natalie. Natalie latches onto Leonard’s case early on, but she clearly doesn’t have his best interest in mind. Once she realizes that she can come into a room, tell him one thing, leave for five minutes, and return to tell him the opposite thing, she becomes another part of the film’s interweaving web of lies. There’s a scene very late in the movie where she does exactly that, and it manages to both disturb Leonard and the viewer.

Let’s not forget about you, the viewer in Memento. The viewer’s expectations are toyed with exactly as Leonard’s are. Certain scenes don’t make sense until much later in the film, such as Leonard’s obsessive writing of various phrases on his body in ink, or a weird subplot where Stephen Tobolowsky has a similar illness to Leonard. All is revealed in time, but Memento’s ending doesn’t simply deliver a final revelation that makes every scene before it make sense. Rather, since it takes place in forward and reverse order, each scene reveals something about the previous one. Since the entire point that this article hinges requires an intimate understanding of the ending, I’m going to be talking Memento spoilers in the next paragraph, so you’ve been warned. However, if you want the ending to hit you as hard as it did me, watch the film blind. I promise, you’ll be glad you did.

OK, everyone back? Christopher Nolan spent two hours making us think the film was about Leonard’s wife’s killer, when it was really about how obsessed we are with “solving” films like this. When watching Memento, I guessed a new killer every scene or two. That’s just the way it’s composed; each wrinkle in the story reframes the previous events to implicate that someone else was the killer. But who was the real killer? Leonard? Sammy Jankis? Nope, it’s the short-term memory loss. When it’s revealed that Sammy Jankis is just Leonard’s way to reconcile his accidental killing of his wife, you don’t feel like you’ve beaten Memento. It’s beaten you. The very idea that one of the people in this investigation is the killer is fundamentally wrong. Like Leonard, we’re all searching for answers where there are none. And like Leonard, our catharsis comes from finally freeing ourselves of this endless loop and watching the credits. For Leonard, that ending comes from killing Teddy in the opening scene of the film, breaking the chain of violence that Teddy has been leading him down.

The theme of manipulation is prevalent in every scene of Memento, but it never hit me with how brilliant it was until I realized that we are just as much pawns as Leonard is in the film. Sure, it’s a sneaky tactic to subvert expectations, and it’s duplicitous, and Christopher Nolan is a sick bastard, but isn’t that a credit to the film?  The fact that it makes its viewers feel like no other film does is admirable, and even if you’ve only seenThe Dark Knight trilogy and Inception, you know now what to expect from Christopher Nolan films that start where they end.

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Take Our Word: Girls

Daenerys

The Word

College is a time for students to develop new ideas and opinions that will define them for the rest of their lives. If there’s one single idea that has popped up continuously in my first two years of class, it’s that women deserve way more respect than we give them. There isn’t a single thing separating men from women when it comes to being a strong protagonist save for the writers themselves. Oh, and did I mention that HBO’s Girls came back this week? God be damned, you just have to watch Girls if you’re looking for some strong female protagonists being awful to each other and everyone around them. What we’re highlighting here isn’t just the entire gender of female, but a few shining examples of it being portrayed powerfully and fairly in pop culture.

The Reccomendations

Allen

Beyond Good & EvilWell-regarded as one of the best games that nobody played, Ubisoft’s 2003 adventure game Beyond Good & Evil is exactly the type of game that we need in the gaming landscape today. It harkens back to the best 3D Zelda games with its open world and clever dungeon designs, it respects the player’s time with plenty of substantive activities and secrets to discover, but most importantly, it treats its own story with the proper respect. You play as Jade, a photojournalist in a fantasy world that resembles a less futuristic, more primitive version of The Fifth Element, and you’re on the case of unraveling a totalitarian government conspiracy against the anthropomorphized animals of your world. Jade is never sexualized or treated as a gender-neutral character. She never uses her body to evade trouble, and she never has to rely on her strong male counterparts to do what she can’t. Armed with nothing but a camera, some mean staff-fighting skills, and a thrill for adventure, Jade is exactly what all female protagonists should strive to emulate. It also helps that her adventure is lengthy and fun, even if it was cut short by a cliffhanger and little potential for a sequel.

 You don’t even have to dig up the old PS2 or Xbox to play Beyond Good & Evil. The original version is on Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/app/15130/ , and an updated HD version was released in 2011 on PSN and Xbox Live: http://us.playstation.com/games/beyond-good-evil-hd-ps3.html
 
James
 
A Song of Ice and Fire: One of my favorite series is A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. This is better known as The Game of Throne Series. The setting is somewhat medieval, with knights, castles, and kings, but the women are portrayed in a surprisingly human way. Martin has been asked about how he makes his literary females so compelling and strong. Martin’s response is to say that he just writes the females as if they were regular people. Martin avoids the hyper sexualization of characters that his fellow  fantasy writers often succumb to, sheerly due to his ability to write the women as real characters. From Cerci Lannister to Sansa Stark, the women are powerful, capable, and use their sexuality for their own benefit. While there are a few sex scenes, they are all given a purpose, and what’s more, a real voice.

A link to the first book: http://www.amazon.com/Game-Thrones-Song-Fire-Book/dp/0553573403

Magellan

Kissing Jessica Stein: I think we all have those films that we see the poster for every time we log into Netflix, and then one day we decide “To Hell with this, I’ll just watch it.” A couple days ago, I had just that kind of a moment with Kissing Jessica Stein, and I don’t regret that decision one bit. Going into this movie I knew next to nothing, except that there would be kissing and there would be a girl named Jessica Stein. The lack of a comma also indicated, although implicitly, that this mysterious Jessica Stein would be somehow involved in the kissing. It turns out that this assumption was correct, as Kissing Jessica Stein is a kind of off-beat romantic comedy in which the protagonist, Jessica Stein, tentatively embarks on a lesbian relationship with a bisexual art gallery director named Helen. Oh, and Jessica is a flaming heterosexual. Nowadays that kind of blasse treatment of homosexuality may come off as offensive, and I guess that elevator pitch sounds like the worst blend of chick flick and Lifetime movie you can think of, but the film itself has an under-budget, quietly urban style to it. The characters feel realistic (despite the somewhat far-fetched circumstances), and I left the movie with a distinct sense of satisfaction. If you’re looking for a movie with some strong women and an undeniable charm, you should give Kissing Jessica Stein a chance. Oh, and Jon Hamm’s in it for like two minutes, so that’s fun.
 
Here’s the trailer (don’t watch it, it’s awful): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCRSXG1tg_w

And this is Roger Ebert’s review, to give you a more balanced and sophisticated take on the film: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/kissing-jessica-stein-2002

 
The Round-Up
 
If you haven’t had your fill of strong female protagonists after all of that, look no further than the combined works of Joss Whedon. The man has a knack for putting women in good, non-sexualized roles, and he’s both done and been the subject of many convention talks about this exact thing.
 
Here’s his speech on gender equality from 2006: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYaczoJMRhs
 
Here we see Joss in his natural habit, Comic-Con, discussing strong female characters: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7YKYAe0jo4
 
And let’s wrap up the Round-Up with a video of Eliza Dushku discussing how amazing Joss is at writing female characters at Fan Expo 2011: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7C-Zp5xmV8

Flix Fix: The Generality of Genres

In bruges

by James

When I was trying to recommend the film In Bruges to my brother, I came across some problems. The conversation ran something like this: “Jake,” (my brother’s name is Jake) “you should really check out this film. It’s like a dark comedy, but it isn’t really a funny movie, and it has some action parts, but it really isn’t an action movie, and there is some drama, but it isn’t like a real dramatic movie. Umm. It’s about Bruges. No really, you should check it out.”

When I try to talk about a film, the first thing that comes to mind is the genre. Inevitably, the first words out of my mouth are “It’s a horror movie,” or “It’s an action movie.” The human mind naturally categorizes things into a collection. The easiest way to describe something new is to start with something old. Only after the category is established does the explanation come out. “It’s a horror movie, but the serial killer is a puppet.” “It’s an adventure movie, but the main character is actually a cyborg dog. How awesome is that?” For the most part, these films are easily categorized. Hollywood knows what the markets are looking for, and tend to produce to the specifications. People want comedies? Give them a wacky setup, and send Kevin James in. People want a horror movie? Send in the teenagers and give somebody a knife and a mask. Most movies fit into this category, but from time to time, there comes a movie that doesn’t really fit into this mold.

Some of the most innovative movies are the ones that lack the boundaries imposed by genres. Adaptation, my favorite movie, is an example of a movie whose value increases due to its lack of restrictions. Adaptation is a movie about a man trying to adapt a screenplay. There is comedy, but the movie isn’t a comedy. There is drama, but the movie isn’t a drama. There is crime, but the movie is not a crime movie. The idea behind the movie is simple, but the writing by Charlie Kauffman brings out a complex look at the nature of change in many different forms. If it was forced into having more drama, or more crime, or comedy, the tone of the movie would change substantially. The focus would no longer rest on the ideas that the movie tries to convey, but instead the attention would be drawn away by the tropes of the genre.

I’m not saying that movies that are easily classified are bad. I enjoy watching comedies and action movies. However, the movies that stay with me are movies that contain ideas. Oftentimes, movies are so filled with tropes that there is little time for innovation. Was Lockout a fun movie? Of course it was, but I will never remember the movie as more than what it was: an action movie set in space.

Of course there will always be conventional Hollywood standbys. People will watch, and people will enjoy. Those are tried and true classic methods, and there is no reason to change it. But when I am looking for a movie to really speak to me, I’ll be looking for the film that nobody can describe.