Itís not a big-name cast, and without a major studio, it wonít break any box-office records. But Memento could make its mark in a different regard: by boasting the most-debated plot of the year.
Leonard Shelby [Guy Pearce] appears to have survived a brutal attack that has left his wife [Jorja Fox] dead and himself without a short-term memory. He remembers everything thatís happened up until the attack, but is unable to form any new memories. Obsessed with finding his wifeís killer, Leonard relies on Polaroids, notes and body tattoos to help his search and remind him of his mission. Along the way he meets a bartender [Carrie-Anne Moss] and a cop [Joe Pantoliano] who may or may not be trustworthy.
Directed by newcomer Christopher Nolan, Memento is unique because it unravels the clues ...backwards. Thatís right -- its opening is the end, and continues to rewind scene by scene until every shocking detail is uncovered. The crime drama won the screenwriting award at Sundance and also wowed crowds at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals.
Hollywood.com recently sat down with stars Pearce, Moss, Pantoliano, and director Nolan to find out how they navigated their way through the trickiest whodunit since The Usual Suspects.
OK. How many times did you have to read the script before you figured it all out?
Guy Pearce: Iíll always read things a few times, but that first read is always particularly important because every read after that you start to break it down. In this case, I responded very well to that first read to the emotional situation of the character. But then I had to go back and pull it apart.
Carrie-Anne Moss: I read it a few times, and I talked to Chris [Nolan, the writer/director] about it, I talked to Guy about it, and allowed myself to have questions even while I was shooting it. And even had questions as I was watching it. ... I took the script apart and put it together from back to front.
Joe Pantoliano: I didnít read it; I waited until they made the movie and watched it four times.
Pantoliano: [Laughs] I found it to be pretty linear, to tell you the truth. My confusion was, "When am I telling the truth? What is the truth, Chris?" And he told me what the truth was, but he also said that as a filmmaker, part of his intention was he wanted the audience to talk away with their own ending.
Have you seen Memento with an audience? What do you notice?
Pearce: People are compelled by it. The funny thing is, I think thereís quite a bit of humor throughout the film. We had a screening at home for some friends of mine ... [and] because of the way it starts -- itís serious and dark -- talking to some friends afterward, they said, "We found some stuff funny but we kind of thought we werenít supposed to laugh. And after a while it got too funny so we had to start laughing." So people are feeling they really shouldnít laugh.
Pantoliano: Two things are happening. All we have in life is our memories and the idea of a guy thatís lost his memory, has long term but no short-term, I think that strikes an emotional chord in all of us. Thatís one. Two, itís great storytelling. And because of that, we as filmgoers love to be stimulated. This movie is not for the mindless, itís for people of intellect who like to play crossword puzzles, college kids ... theyíre gonna love this movie. And this movie is gonna be successful because of that.
Lots of people are going to pick it apart, try to find the holes. Is this what you expected?
Christopher Nolan: In choosing the structure I did, in trying to get us into Leonardís head by telling the story backwards and denying us the information that heís been denied, you invite an enormous amount of scrutiny. "Does that really fit together?" and all the rest. So we were really careful in constructing a film that I believe can sustain multiple viewings.
Pantoliano: If you watch this movie several times, you canít find any cracks in the plot points. But if you watch The Usual Suspects, there are downright plot points that are just manipulative filmmaking that after you watch it two or three times you go "Oh, all right, thatís a flaw." Itís like watching movies to see if the clock is set right in the background.
Usually we see characters build some kind of relationship throughout the picture. So how do you tackle a movie in which thereís no chance of that, since Leonard forgets the interaction immediately after it happens?
Pearce: I found freedom because of the 10-minute world that Leonard lives in, and thereís a quality that Leonard has, which is a distrust with people, that comes across. So thereís an effort and an energy that goes into that. But at the same time, it is liberating because you donít remember anything about the person. Itís not like youíre carrying the weight of history between you.
Moss: Thereís a certain amount of freedom in that. Thereís a scripted story and you get to use your imagination in making up a back story.
How do you guys remember things?
Moss: I definitely have been one to write on my hand. And I still will with lipstick, eyeliner, whatever I can find. But now Iím a little bit better; if I think about something more than twice, I know I need to write it down. I have a terrible memory for stories that happened, but I remember little, day-to-day things. I get tasks accomplished that way.
Pantoliano: Iím starting to remember less ... I make notes to myself and I got one of those things that you talk into, but Iím too lazy to play it back. I figure if I donít remember it, it ainít worth remembering.
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