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Remember Sammy Jankis

I pondered over what I wanted to cover first. I mean, there’s this gigantic universe of things to choose from that I could pick apart. Since it was something I very recently watched and is one of my favorite screws-with-your-head flicks, I decided to start off with Christopher Nolan’s psychological thriller Memento.

This film was one of the many who shaped my interests into what they are today. Up until I had seen this film, I guess I would have considered myself a casual movie buff. I mean, I loved movies and already had begun to have a decent collection of DVDs – but this was one of the first that I had begun to appreciate not only because of story, characters, special effects, but rather structure, screenplay, direction – you know, the important things that make the movie. It was appropriate since we viewed it for a screen writing class I had taken in college at the request of a fellow student friend of mine.

I was a majorless, mindless, bumbling sophomore at this point in time and I had to pick a major that year. This class, along with this movie (and several others) helped to nudge me into a communications major where I found my home amongst others equally interested in the printed word and its transformation into the digital text you’re reading today.

So, you could say this film has a special place in my heart.

I was already familiar with Nolan’s work through Batman Begins, which, I recall, I initially disregarded as some cheap cash in Hollywood garbage as soon as I saw the Batmobile design. Long story short; I walked out of the movie theater saying to myself, “This is the best damned Batman movie ever!” Similar exclamations were made after The Dark Knight, but those are stories for other days.

Memento was absolutely brilliant. I always loved movies that kept you guessing and the script, coupled with the actual way it was shot only enhanced the feel of the film. Basically, Guy Pearce is Leonard Shelby, a man who suffers from anterograde amnesia. He remembers his past, but is unable to form new memories. Leonard can only remember things for a few minutes before they are completely lost to him.

Imagine falling asleep in a hotel room, waking up, and the last memory you have is of your wife being raped and murdered in the bathroom. This is Leonard’s nightmare. Now, what Nolan did here to make it our nightmare was to arrange the films narrative structure in a confusing matter. If you rented this movie expecting to start at point A and end at point B, you will be getting a huge surprise. There are two main components to the film – the black and white sequences and the color sequences.

Let’s start with the black and white. This entire plot takes place at the very beginning of the story, where Leonard is on the phone talking to a mysterious person. Each sequence is intercut with the color scenes, but all of the black and white scenes follow into the next.

The color scenes, on the other hand, always start in the middle of some action. We have no clue what’s happening at the beginning of the scene and don’t find out how Leonard gets there until the next color scene. There are some wonderful sites that explain the structure of the film better than I can, but I would suggest watching it would help to understand it better.

This has everything in it. Drama, humor, it’s a psychological thriller and it’s a noir. The fact that Leonard is an unreliable narrator makes the story even more questionable. Some have theorized that none of this is actually happening and that Leonard is actually in a mental hospital somewhere. If you freeze frame during one of scenes where he’s speaking about what happened to Sammy Jankis, you can see Stephen Tobolowsky is replaced with Guy Pearce for a split second in the hospital ward.

That’s what I love about any form of fiction – it can be interpreted in a multitude of ways. It’s even better when the auteur gives us the freedom to say “this is that to you, but it’s this to me.” I’ve watched Memento several times (most recently on Blu-ray) and I notice little things each time that I didn’t see before. It’s always a discovery experience and I cherish stories like this.

We are made to emphasize with Leonard and his condition. Although we are gifted with memory, we are still prey to his unorganized (or lack thereof) memory. The events unfolding before us are told through the eyes of someone who cannot remember them. Judging from the other characters in the story, Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) and Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss), the world outside his view isn’t any more honest. Both characters take advantage of Leonard’s condition to their own ends, even the hotel manager scams him into buying more than one room, and has the gall to tell him because he knows he won’t remember. It’s sick that they lie to him, but in some ways, even sicker that he lies to himself in the end.

Perhaps it’s a reflection of the human condition. After all, we lie to ourselves all the time. We create truths for ourselves to help us through tough times, or to deal with certain people. The old example is the clown crying on the inside. All outwardly appearances would show a fun-loving laughable kind of guy, but inside is more darkness and depression. We put on faces to protect ourselves. Our reality is our own way of lying to ourselves.

Memento has gone on my list (not numbered of course, that would be too generic) of great films I recommend seeing. It is thinking man’s movie in many aspects, something I’ve grown to love about Christopher Nolan’s films. I enjoy being surprised, but I also like to be challenged. Everybody always feels good on the way out of the theater saying, “I knew that’s how it would end!”

I prefer saying, “I didn’t see that coming.”


A Fictional Reality

The title of the post was originally supposed to be my super-clever idea for a blog name, but of course there is always someone one step ahead of me. Regardless, I felt that it addressed a problem that a friend of mine brought up during conversation the other day. He argued that fiction was merely a tool of entertainment and that when you’re done with it, you take nothing with you minus the satisfaction of being amused, horrified, gratified, or any other number of crazy emotions out there you might feel.

Of course, being an avid devourer of fiction, whether it be based in reality or some planet within the vicinity of Betelgeuse, I argued in favor of fiction. I feel it is not only necessary, as I’m sure many will tend to agree, but an integral part of everyone’s life. Plus, let’s face it, some of it is pretty damned cool!

Non-fiction is great and all, though I have to admit I don’t read much of it besides what I read in the news and even then I like to turn over to the entertainment section. I have no shame in it – it’s just who I am. Perhaps, some might say, I’m leaving in a dream world fantasy.

I am very much rooted in reality, I assure you.

So many things have shaped me into the person I am today. I’ve seen so many films, television shows, plays, video games, and of course read, read, and read so many different mediums. The amount of intake can be staggering when you look at it. So, when my friend said that I never learned anything or took anything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Star Wars, I felt very hurt. I am a part of a culture, as is he, who almost lives for fantasy.

The real world is the sick one, but it’s all we’ve got. Fiction is a reflection of ourselves, sometimes through a twisted mirror, but a reflection nonetheless. Our collective hopes, dreams, and failures are represented through characters and themes. Even the way stories are told are more interesting than hearing it firsthand. Imagine reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with some sort of reliable narrator, perhaps a doctor or nurse separated from the action. I would doubt it would be as interesting.

If you think about it, reality, in a way, is fiction. My reality is not the same as another’s, as my views and perceptions of the world are different. If I were to describe what I see in a picture, you might see something totally different.

Is my perspective invalid, or is yours?

Or perhaps reality is just a fictional idea.