18 October 2009

Skandies: Best Films of the Decade, #7



Memento (2000, Christopher Nolan)
originally placed: #3, 2001.

30 comments:

Robert Fuller said...

Brilliant.

Jake M. said...

I have no idea why. It looks like Nolan took a typical crime thriller mystery, shattered it and assembled it back together awkwardly to make it seem more thrilling and mind-bending than it really is.

Victor said...

Oh please ... MEMENTO's last scene is the greatest such scene in movie history and makes the movie about the ultimate existential dilemma -- why should I live, and why should it matter. Or as Chesterton put it about men without God, "he does not believe in nothing, but he believes in anything."

md'a said...

Obviously the plot is of no importance, but let that pass. I'm curious about the "awkwardly" bit. Whatever else one might say about the film, it couldn't be more airtight in its basic structure: You have one thread going forward, another going in reverse and the film ends at the moment when the two finally meet. If you want awkward achronology, watch Following.

Also, while I'm here, let me note for the record that Memento would have placed at #12 even if I had abstained from voting.

Jeff said...

Nice points, Jake. At least this thing did not make it to the top 5 as I feared it might.

md'a said...

Just so you know, Jake, Jeff does not actually think you made "nice points." Any negative remark made about the film would have elicited that response from him.

Stephen said...

1. How is Memento a typical crime thriller? It's about how human beings use self deception to give meaning to their lives. I can't think of any crime thrillers about that theme, or anything close.

2. The structure is entirely about building up to this "reveal." It's not "awkward" it's essential to entire meaning of the film, as you enter the protagonist's shoes, both in terms of living a life similar to his (no long term memory) and misreading the importance of accomplishments (since you do not know the proper context).

Absolutely brilliant film. Glad to see it here instead of a bunch of pretentious nonsense.

Jeff said...

Jake, Mike is right but don't let it get you down, any negative remark about this film is a nice point.

Robert Fuller said...

I have no idea why it looks like that to you, Jake, unless you just weren't paying full attention to it. The backwards structure is crucial to the film, for both thematic and dramatic reasons. It's a typical crime thriller mystery in the same way 2001 is a typical sci-fi space opera.

J. Mason said...

You were pretty much this movie's first champion, Mike, no? I think Christopher Nolan owes his career to you. (Not really, but it would be fun to think so, right?)

Sam Smith said...

Just to echo a comment from the other day, I have little hope that SPIRITED AWAY would pop up in the top 6, but I think it's a shame for Miyazaki, or animated film in general, to not be represented on such a poll. Oh well etc.

Michael said...

Glad to see it here instead of a bunch of pretentious nonsense.

Don't go there. Please.

Adam Villani said...

I liked it a lot, but honestly, I preferred The Prestige. Nolan's pretty amazing. It's one thing to have one good story, one good concept, one blow-you-away movie in you, it's another to consistently blow me away with each film. OK, I guess INSOMNIA was only a mild pro and I never saw Following, but still, four solid PROs is pretty impressive. Two mindbenders and two superlative genre pics.

The Hunting of the Snark said...

I saw this around its debut and found it a good thriller - a solid 3/4 - and little else. I've wanted to rewatch lately as it's placing very high on a lot of trusted friends' decade recaps.
(Incidentally Victor, I saw it right around the time I was on a serious Chesterton kick and failed to draw any philosophical/spiritual parallels then. Maybe a 2nd viewing will reveal its teleological argument.)

Victor said...

Hunting:

Well, MEMENTO's is the only film ending I can think of that can aphoristically be compared to both Chesterton and Nietzsche -- the Nietzschean formulation would be something like "he chooses the lie that gives life over the truth that does not set him free."

The difference would be whether one sees the end as liberating/heroic (in which case, Nietzsche's formulation makes more sense) or tragic (in which case, GKC's does).

wug said...

My predictions for the top 6:

#1 In the Mood for Love
#2 Mulholland Drive
#3 Dogville
#4 There Will Be Blood
#5 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
#6 The New World

The strong bias for English-language films is only balanced out by what is #1.

Jake M. said...

I said the movie was assembled awkwardly because most movies do not have--as m'da pointed out--separate storylines that progress backward and forward at the same time. To most people, this not conventional and they would find it bewildering. What I did find conventional was a murder mystery that ended up becoming about a delusional assassin who's used by a crooked cop in drug deals. Big deal, I'd say.

Like Adam Villani, I prefer The Prestige.

md'a said...

So "unconventional" = "awkward". Got it. And if you think the film is remotely about a murder mystery or crooked cops and drug deals, I can't help you. Enjoy remaining forever on the surface of things.

Victor said...

What I did find conventional was a murder mystery that ended up becoming about a delusional assassin who's used by a crooked cop in drug deals.

Uh ... no. That's exactly what MEMENTO *looks like* it's about.

The last scene recodes everything and the film ends up becoming about what I said it's about: a man's acknowledging that life has meaning, even if it means preferring what he knows to be a lie to a meaningless truth.

wug said...

I guess what I find so surprising about this is that so many found this theme profound. Since I'm an agnostic and for practical purposes an atheist (a perspective widely shared among the Skandies voting body), I've always taken it as obvious that we make up the meaning in our lives, and that outside of our subjectivity, life has no inherent purpose. I think MEMENTO'S climatic twist is kinda neat, but it makes us go through a lot (the whole B-movie murder mystery) to get to something I hardly found to be a philosophical revelation.

Theo said...

:I've always taken it
:as obvious that we make
:up the meaning in our
:lives, and that outside
:of our subjectivity,
:life has no inherent purpose.

Except MEMENTO also says that what we think of as Meaning is often Delusion, what we think of as Memory is often riddled with selective omissions, and what we think of as the self we've created (our "subjectivity") is in fact a lie we tell ourselves so we can live with our faults and mistakes.

Oddly enough, the film plays just as well (maybe even better) for a believer: If subjectivity is so specious and troublesome, that only makes the need for external moral standards even more obvious.

Victor said...

Wug:

MEMENTO is not about a man who consciously constructs his meaning, except for the one minute or so at the end. But rather, it's the opposite -- Lenny can't decide something different tomorrow, which means his situation is nothing like the self-conscious agnostic that you describe, who thinks he can and does create his own values (I would argue that he's as deluded as Lenny, though not here). A meaning that one is conscious of having chosen or constructed isn't really a "meaning" at all, but a whim you can discard. Lenny can't do that, and that's why he's the existentially relevant case.

md'a said...

What Theo said. Also, the film's meaning is encoded in its structure, so the fact that the plot isn't terribly interesting per se isn't (at least for me) remotely relevant. What matters is the experience of entering each (color) scene with no context whatsoever.

Jeff said...

Every time I entered a color scene I was reminded how awful the b&w looked.

wug said...

Theo wrote: "Except MEMENTO also says that what we think of as Meaning is often Delusion, what we think of as Memory is often riddled with selective omissions, and what we think of as the self we've created (our "subjectivity") is in fact a lie we tell ourselves so we can live with our faults and mistakes."

True enough and I find those things fascinating (if not also pretty self-evident), but if just tackling some of these issues made a great movie, then DOUBT should be on the list.

Thinking it through, I have no problem with movies that deal life's meaning, self-delusion, selective memory, etc. and think there should probably be more of them since my personal stance on them doesn't seem to be all that popular among the public at large (most people think "Yeah, others engage in a lot of unaware subjectivism but I don't").

I guess it just comes down to MEMENTO's execution with regards to these ideas. Maybe it's just personal taste, but I didn't particularly care for the movie on a moment-to-moment basis. I can see the theoretical argument as to why it's a great movie, but it didn't make me feel it. I should watch it again though.

wug said...

x-posted with everyone after Theo (which I guess is what happens when one goes to bring lunch back to the desk while composing a post)

But Victor, that last minute or so is the most important of the movie because as you said yourself, it recodes everything else and that is because of Lenny’s conscious choice.

Victor said...

Right, that one minute is obviously the key to what the movie's about.

But what I was driving it (obviously unclearly) is that it's a highly privileged moment, one that comes rarely. What it doesn't do is make Lenny someone who fully, self-consciously and deliberatively chooses his values in anything like the manner the agnostic/atheist of today (thinks he) does -- which could, yes, make the point as obvious and "no shit, Sherlock" as you were saying. Rather ... while that one moment does make Lenny an agent, it is only *for* that one moment (and in the omniscient eyes of the viewer). *In every other moment,* -- he doesn't choose his values, his values choose him. Once he's decided that Teddy will be his John G., he is forever trapped by that decision.

wug said...

This has nothing to do with the movie per se, Victor, but I think you’re attacking a straw man when you insinuate that I suggested that we “agnostic/atheists of today” self-consciously choose all of our meaning/value/purpose in life. What I originally said is that we “make up the meaning in our lives” which is not to say we are agents of perfect will with blank slates and complete freedom in making choices. On an internal level, we all live with denial, confirmation bias, some degree of self-delusion. On an external level, we are all constrained by social and parental engineering. This, however, does not deny that meaning is created subjectively by us but rather reinforces that it is.

Russ said...

FWIW (not much, actually), I found this film absolutely brilliant. In the alt-universe in which I am a member of the AVB, this one placed at least a spot or two higher.

Matthew B. said...

How is Memento a typical crime thriller? It's about how human beings use self deception to give meaning to their lives. I can't think of any crime thrillers about that theme, or anything close.

Self-deception isn't a terribly uncommon theme in a genre about deception. The Maltese Falcon meets your criteria, for instance (the novel much more so than the films). Not to say that Memento's ending doesn't pack a cathartic punch, but I could never understand what's so remarkable there that it outweighs the cruddy b&w photography or the dumb attempts at comedy.

The Prestige, on the other hand, is near-flawless.