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Gazing into the Abyss: Michael Rawdon's Journal


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This afternoon Trish and I got together to see the film Memento. And boy am I glad we went; it's an excellent film and you should go see it!

Leonard Shelby (Guy Pierce) is a man with brain damage: He remembers his life up to the point when either one or two men invaded his house and raped and killed his wife. As a result of fighting with them, Leonard can no longer make new memories. Every few hours (or, sometimes, minutes) he forgets almost everything he's done or experienced since then. "Almost" means that he can form new habits through repetition, so he knows that his wife is dead, that he's looking for her murderer, and some of the tricks he uses to help him remember things.

For instance, truly important pieces of information he tattoos on his body, or tapes to key locations wherever he's currently living. And he carries a Polaroid camera and photos which he annotates with information. But he can't remember people, or motivations, or directions. He of course explains his "condition" to almost everyone he meets, but although many of them take advantage of his condition, he of course can't remember this so rarely gets annoyed by it.

Memento features one final gimmick: It's told backwards. It opens with Leonard killing a man named Teddy. The movie then drills back through each successive scene to show why he killed Teddy, and the people around him who have been helping (or hindering) his search for his wife's killer. Interspersed with these scenes are asides where Leonard is on the phone telling someone about his condition, and about a man with a similar condition he had examined in his previous life as an insurance investigator.

The scene which most typifies the film's storytelling approach is this: Leonard is running through a trailer park, and he thinks, Okay, so what am I doing? He sees a man running on the other side of some trailers and thinks, I'm chasing this guy. He speeds up and rounds a corner and the guy points a gun at him. No, he thinks as he turns around, he's chasing me.

The big concern I had going in was that a story told backwards - particularly a murder mystery - couldn't have a satisfying ending, a sense of closure to Leonard's story. In fact, it does: It works both thematically and plotwise, tying up its loose ends quite nicely, although with a rather morbid twist, and still leaving a lot to the imagination of the viewer.

Pierce is excellent as Leonard, as he was in L.A. Confidential. He conveys just the right sense of confusion, and just the right amount of certainty when necessary. And as he's essentially unable to make deep connections with people, the whole film has an otherworldly feel to it. Joe Pantoliano as Teddy is also quite good, and Carrie-Ann Moss as Natalie - a bartender involved with a drug dealer - does a good job as one of the people who "handles" Leonard in the story.

All-in-all it's a haunting tale, and not an upbeat one. But all the same well worth the time.

(By the way: One of the stories in Dan Simmons' novel Hyperion has a similar premise: A woman who wakes up every morning and is a day younger, and remembers nothing after that day in her life. Hyperion is a terrific novel - although you need to read its sequel, The Fall of Hyperion, to get the full story - so it's worth a look anyway.)


On the drive back from Palo Alto (where Trish and I had dinner), we passed a smash-up on Highway 17. As we slowly drove past it in the congested traffic, I noticed that one of the vehicles - which was completely totalled - looked a lot like that of a friend of mine. And it appears the occupant was lying on the roadside being attended to by medics. It's actually not inconceivable that he would have been in that part of town, so when I got home I called him. He wasn't there, so I left a message explaining why I was calling.

Haven't heard back from him yet. But the vehicle I saw is a pretty common one, so odds are it wasn't him. I sure hope not, anyway.

Sorry to leave you hanging like this. I'll follow up as soon as I know the scoop...

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