A PennTags Project by mpopova
In this captivating interview, Creative Screenwriting journalist Daniel Argent speaks with Christopher Nolan about the making of the brain-bending, dis-linear modern noir Memento. Nolan discusses the revelatory nature of his research on memory in the process of writing the screenplay and its existential self-reflexivity in terms of his own thoughts and assumptions. Even with his peculiar memory condition, Memento's protagonist has a subliminal knowledge of things without being aware of how he knows what he knows. Nolan attributes this assumption of knowledge to the notion of instinctive behavior, which the protagonist resorts to in his efforts to continuously and habitually remind himself that he has no short-term memory. Argent probes Nolan on the much-debated question of what the objective truth in the film is, which the filmmaker has repeatedly avoided giving away. Nolan stresses the importance of the audience understanding that he had to have, in his own mind, an idea of what the supposedly objective facts were in order to construct a consistent story that lends itself to multiple subjective interpretations. His intention was to place the audience in the position of someone without short-term memory and remain true to that until the end, unlike many other films that sell out the terms of storytelling towards the end of a film regardless of how daring they've been up to that point. This allows Nolan to create a useful character for highlighting this very human dilemma, providing a profound commentary on the leap-of-faith nature of everyday life. The filmmaker also discusses the challenges of reconciling the protagonist's view of his own condition and the events that actually unfold. Nolan believes this tension brings a more realistic degree of complexity to the situation and to the issues of memory and identity. The director also shares what his days as a cameraman on corporate training videos have taught him about the importance of not lying in film the questionable and the unreliable are only fascinating, he asserts, when they stem from a character's organic reason to be questionable or unreliable. He also points out the liberating aspect of his protagonist's condition, which allows you to forget, as well as makes you forget, enabling him to create comforting half-truths. Nolan also discusses his own peculiarities his upbringing as the double-identity child of parents from two different cultures, his habit of reading magazines back to front as deterministic elements of his relationship with film and storytelling.
Armstrong applauds Christopher Nolan's daring sense of experiment in Memento, and at the same time recognizes the rich tradition of film Memento aspires to. Nolan.s film, the author argues, is in some ways similar to definitive works like Citizen Kane, Double Indemnity, The Underneath, The Usual Suspects, Somewhere in the Night and Don.t Look Now, but also belongs to a distinctive line of genre cinema. Armstrong calls Memento .the logical end game of the amnesic strain of American film noir,. presenting the traditional anxieties of film noir.s male protagonist seeking self-actualization, while also exploring the American status quo. Armstrong points out the striking similarities between Memento and Joseph L. Mankiewicz.s 1946 film Somewhere in the Night, stressing that Leonard belongs to the same essential strain of the damaged, alone, and confused noir protagonist. Memento further reflects the noir genre tropes by echoing the historical resonances of the dangerous women of film noir. These alluring, intelligent and often manipulative female characters often propel the film through their own questionable agendas. In Memento, .pal-cum-lover. Natalie is more than reminiscent of the noir woman as she helps Leonard only to later reveal she needs him to murder someone for her in return. But Memento, Armstrong argues, uses the noir genre tropes in more deeply philosophical ways than just propelling the narrative and building suspense. The film explores the consequences of the relationship between an individual.s point of view or agenda and the objective neutral world that individual exists in. Armstrong also examines the more cinematically self-reflexive qualities of Nolan.s film as it toys with the distinction between the literal and the symbolic. The protagonist becomes the literally walking wounded, mutilating his own body by tattooing queries of his drive for vengeance. At the same time, the film also plays with the audience and its processing of the plot, .encouraging the cinephile habit of .scanning. . making notes about a film as it unfolds.. Finally, Armstrong argues that, unlike the noir protagonist, Leonard becomes the .anti-detective. as the more he investigates the crime, the more he implicates himself. The truth, then, amounts to nothing but one.s own point of view, complete with subjective knowledge and self-protecting fantasies.
Evans examines the relationship between memory and history in Chaucer's romance Troilus, using Christopher Nolan's Memento to illustrate the important historical differences between the medieval and the postmodern. The essay draws on the work of French cultural historian Pierre Nora, who argues that history exists because memory no longer does and society is haunted by this loss. Memento, the author proposes, illustrates the contemporary obsession with .the precariousness of memory. and the crucial relationship between memory and identity. Evans argues that Memento serves as a .surreal projection. of what memory might look like if it were exteriorized and we were incapable of storing it in an internal filing system that allows us to retrieve it as needed. Due to the protagonist.s failure of this psychic archive, he creates a mnemonic system that employs a range of .prosthetics for memory,. such as tattoos, photographs, and notes. Evans compares this system to the techniques medieval monks utilized in the arts of preserving memory through authoritative texts. At the same time, the author suggests that because these are records of discrete and disconnected moments of objective reality, they are detached from a unifying chain of meaning and therefore useless to Leonard in structuring his past, present or future. This places the protagonist in a nightmare of double loss that of his wife and of his reliable mnemonic system. Evans deconstructs scenes from Memento to explore the film's distinctly humanist suggestion that memory is fundamental to one's survival as an individual and juxtaposes it to Chaucer's Troilus, which shares these anxieties of memory but without the radical separation between memory and history. The author stresses the distinctly occidental nature of this separation and argues that while medieval writers did not conflate memory and history, they had a dramatically different understanding of the relationship between the two.
Two years before Christopher Nolan's Memento made its movie debut, Jonathan Nolan, Christopher's brother, generated an idea for a short story titled Memento Mori, which would present a meditation on time and the meaning of life. Although it took Jonathan another two years to write the story, he shared the idea with his brother. Garry Gillard explores the relationship between the two works, using the short story as an aid in processing and understanding the cognitively and emotionally difficult Memento. At the same time, Gillard examines the ways in which Memento employs different conventions of cinematography and various film genres. The driving thematic force in the movie is the concept of revenge, which allows filmmakers to play with relative moral values, simultaneously providing a remarkably feasible structure for the narrative. Nolan's film utilizes this principle to build a powerful psychological motivation for the protagonist, at the same time providing multiple opportunities for suspense to engage the audience. Memento, Gillard argues, also reflects the conventions of the crime genre and its detective subset by building the protagonist on the basis of a common genre trope an investigator who is not a police officer and is often smarter than the police themselves. Despite recognizing the ways in which Nolan uses film conventions, the author points out that Memento is unique in one aspect of its structure the very first thing we see after the film's title appears on the screen is the very last thing that occurs in the story. While many other films begin with the same situations with which they end, such as Sunset Boulevard, Gillard points out the outrageous thing about Memento is that it actually runs backwards, so that the first moment is the last. Gillard closes by drawing a parallel between the existential ruminations of the protagonists in the film and the short story as they relate to the unifying theme of living within a moment and within one's own mind. The author argues both insights are the result of meditation on the nature of experience, the nature of time, and the relationship between the two.
Hibbs examines the philosophical and moral themes in Christopher Nolan's films Memento and Insomnia as they relate to the concepts of truth and truthfulness as well as to classic film noir. The author argues that Nolan is one of today's most talented and thoughtful screenwriters, preoccupied, not unlike other contemporary filmmakers, with the thematic and stylistic features of film noir. Hibbs notes that noir, more than any other American film genre, lends itself to exploring the philosophical connotation of personal identity, the allure and dangers of autonomy, and the role of truthfulness. In Memento, Nolan dramatizes the conflict between wish fulfillment and truthfulness, illustrating the cost of merging fantasy and reality. Hibbs further examines Nolan's films through the prism of the work of British analytic philosopher Bernard Williams and his exploration of the tension between the pursuit of truthfulness and the doubt that there is really any truth to be found. Nolan's Williams-like attention to the moral value of everyday truth is also examined in comparison to David Lynch's work, including Blue Velvet, Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr., which repudiates the nobility of the protagonist's quest for truth and illuminates the perpetual fluidity of personal identity. Lynch, like Nolan, leaves his audience with no reliable way of distinguishing truth from wish fulfillment and factual narration from fantasy. Hibbs argues that through its reverse chronology, duplicitous characters, unreliable narrator, and its refusal to reveal the truth in its entirety, Memento mirrors Lynch's noir style. Finally, the author points out that while philosophers like Williams question whether self-deception is possible and what its consequences could be, Nolan gives his protagonist this peculiar condition, which makes self-deception not only possible, but extremely dangerous. Rather than subverting truth to wishful self-construction, Memento illustrates the incompatibility and conflict between truthfulness and wish fulfillment.
Kelleher discusses with Christopher Nolan the inspirations, challenges, and business tactics involved in conceiving, creating, and selling Memento. Nolan stresses the importance of familiarizing his actors and crew with the unorthodox structure of the film and gaining their support of the logic of the piece. The director reveals his obsession with denying the audience the same knowledge that the protagonist is denied, which he achieved by establishing a solid reason why the plot is out of sequence early in the film. He discusses the dynamic between the film and the audience, and the demands it places on the viewer. Due to the incoherent narrative and thematic structure of the film, it requires more attention to detail and a certain degree of cynicism about what is going to be demanded logically, challenging the viewer to try to poke holes in the film. . Nolan also discusses the differences between pitching a mainstream movie to investors and selling a smaller independent psychological thriller. In the latter case, the filmmaker argues, the features of the film that seem risky are actually selling points at the early stage because they distinguish the material its more extreme, daring, and unconventional angles get the project noticed. Kelleher also probes Nolan on how his films compare to earlier classics like Howard Hawks. The Big Sleep and Roman Polanski.s Chinatown. Nolan recognizes such movies as intensely complex to the point of leaving the audience with the illusion of fully understanding the plot, yet completely unable to describe it. He contrasts this to Memento, which had the opposite goal in terms of telling a very simple story in an incredibly complex fashion, leaving the audience with complete uncertainty rather than an illusion of understanding.
Little examines Mementos exploration of the complexities of surviving trauma, aligning the cinematic experience of viewing the film with the experience of living through a trauma. While the two are not identical, Little argues that the profound disruption of expectation and the film.s odd formal structure unsettle the viewer.s sense of temporal coherence and continuity. The author discusses the concept of .missing,. which frames the film.s thematic charge . a familiar temporal framework is missing, as is the true identity of the protagonist, whose character Little explores as a .missing person.. Memento elicits from viewers a response to missing that mirrors that of the repetition-bound protagonist, resembling the reaction to a traumatic experience. The author draws a parallel with post-traumatic stress disorder, which produces a compulsion to repeat the trauma through hallucinations, flashbacks and dreams in an effort to make sense of the experience. This repetition is bound with the problem of representation in terms of constructing a narrative .to re-present an original experience,. which makes it similar to an actual memento. Little draws on critic Susan Stewart.s work on the nature of the souvenir, an object that carries meaning only if it is recognized as a representation of and a substitute for the original thing. The author relates this to the fort-da game Freud observes in his grandson, which enables the child to make up for the absence of his mother by imagining and narrativizing it in a meaningful fashion. Like a memento, however, the game also entails disappointment as it cannot perfectly reproduce the lost origin of the mother.s unbroken presence. Memento, Little argues, functions like a memento in providing the viewer with souvenirs that stimulate, but do not satisfy, a nostalgic longing for an underlying truth.
Nolan discusses his creative process and his techniques for keeping Memento's complicated plot under control through reordering his writing and using the tight logical filters of his actors. He analyzes the relationship between the screenplay and his brother Jonathan's short story it was based on. Nolan talks about the film's cleverly manipulated promotional website, www.otnemem.com, which was created by his brother and aimed to give audiences a three-dimensional narrative where they can view information in the order that seems the most interesting, following lines of thought by using items and objects from both the film and the short story. The website thus provides a fascinating link between the two works in a way that allows people to make sense of both on their own terms. Nolan also discusses the differences in how he approached the structures of Memento and his 1999 film Following, both of which are non-linear, but while Memento runs backwards, the script for Following was written chronologically and later reordered to fit the structural conceit Nolan wanted. The filmmaker talks about what initially attracted him to the concept for Memento and the metaphorical potential the protagonist's condition provides. He discusses the concept of revenge and how the inability to remember affects it, raising the question of whether revenge exist in any real sense outside of one's own head, or whether it is merely personal satisfaction with no value beyond that. Nolan admits his preference for the noir genre, which allows for more three-dimensional characters based on the historical model of defining a character through action, as opposed to most other film genres where characterization comes through dialogue and narrative. He also argues the noir genre is better suited for the non-linear structure and the audience is more accepting of it this way. Nolan discusses the advantage the thriller writer has over the audience in terms of having a year to write the screenplay, as opposed to the 90 minutes the audience has to digest it. He stresses the importance of understanding and not abusing this advantage, which led him to continually simplify Memento throughout the writing process, avoiding the danger of making the cognitive load of this already incredibly dense film intolerably burdensome for the viewer.
Orr closely examines Memento's film fabric as well as its broader cultural implications, presenting it as the result of a natural progression in a decade marked by the transformation of classic film noir into a low-budget identity noir. Nolan's dis-linear identity noir opens a black hole of perception, making the audience share the same amnesiac quality with the beleaguered, lost protagonist. This creates an intensifying suspicion of what the truth is and whether it actually exists. Orr deconstructs Memento as an intersection of popular film genre and experimental montage, discussing Nolan's mise-en-scene reduction to pure image. The author examines the narrative loop of the film as a subject to disorientations, playing forward and backward in time without a serial return to the present. Orr juxtaposes this approach to the fast-forward culture of today, calling it a perverse culture of the rewind. that plays on electronic culture's fatal flaw of .impatience with the slowing image. Nolan makes this perverse reverse dependent on the art of simple montage, creating a protagonist strikingly independent of electronic paraphernalia Leonard does not use the tools of the contemporary investigator, such as bugs, camcoders, computers, or mobiles, but is instead reliant on text and image. This, Orr argues, makes him a fable for the information age, his lack of memory storage both a match and a metaphor for the disaster bound to strike if all the world's electronic technology were to crash. Leonard is thus reduced to pure hard copy, from the tattoos covering his body to the multitude of notes lining his inside pockets. In this respect, Nolan.s protagonist becomes the antithesis of the Kubrickian cyborg monster, a de-programmed humanoid whose retrograde amnesia mirrors this technological retrograde evolution.
Sibielski examines the history, identity, and failure of rationality as an ordering principle in Memento. Nolan's film illustrates the postmodern rejection of the founding principles of Enlightenment modernity, using narrative, visual and thematic elements to convey the increasingly blurred line between reality and hyperreality. The author argues that postmodern theory is both informed by and interested in popular culture, and this intersection has caused the debate over the nature of postmodernism to spill from academia into the popular culture realm. Memento, Sibielski suggests, is one of the cultural artifacts resulting from this dynamic, echoing the work of several postmodern theorists such as Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Fredric Jameson, and Kevin Robins. Sibielski argues that the postmodern condition is characterized by a lost sense of history due to the perpetual reproduction of records, such as photographs and video footage, which has left society condemned to seek history through its own pop culture images and simulacra of that history. Memento's thematic symbolism reflects this confused quest for factual history, elevating rationality into the most reliable ordering principle through the actions of the protagonist, Leonard Shelby. Leonard's condition makes his existence a series of perpetual presents, self-contained in the immediate moment and detached from the events that precede them. To remedy this, he constructs a system of photographs and notes, which become his network of mediation that he relies on to transform his experience into a coherent and truthful one. Sibielski argues that the use of photographs reflects Enlightenment modernity's unconditional faith in the objectivity of scientific investigation and empirical research. Yet Memento turns this relationship into an inevitable paradox by introducing the ultimate failure of rationality as Leonard's Polaroids become the subject of shifting and subjective interpretations. This places Memento at the epicenter of the contemporary obsession with ordering and controlling the world, using knowledge as a means to the end of self-actualization, and unfolding the larger discourse of humanism and rationalism as they relate to the notion of objective knowledge.