Tuesday, January 18, 2011

More on ‘Memento’

[A follow-up to this post]

 The fact that one can colorably argue for so many alternative endings, suggests that, as with String Theory purporting to explain Everything or maybe nothing, or like the search for an all-too-ubiquitous “John G”, the problem has too many open parameters:  we seek in vain to escape from these excessive degrees of freedom.
            The classic detective tale illustrating the possibilities of multiple interpretation -- of false bottoms beneath falser ones -- is G. K. Chesterton’s “The Honor of Israel Gow”, one of the Father Brown stories.  What makes that story -- splendid in its technical construction -- something more than an epistemological curiosity, is Chesterton’s never-wavering moral seriousness.  (You can read that story here.)


            Director Nolan tried another intricate box-within-boxes puzzler (in this case, dreams within dreams) in “Inception” (2010).   That he was unable, despite a much larger budget, top actors, good cinematography, and many more years of experience, to match the tautly-wound intensity of “Memento”, highlights that earlier achievement.   The dedication, the moral motive force, and sense of personal urgency, that propel “Memento”, are lacking in the later work, and leave it a mere puzzle-box.
            And yet, with passage of time, and no replies to the pointed plot-questions, I now suspect that “Memento”, for all its intensity, and for all our digging, adds up to less than it promises.   We might exclaim, with Swann:  “Dire que j’ai gâché des semaines de ma vie, pour un film qui n’était pas mon genre!”


            Our son said:  “Since you liked ‘Memento’, try ‘Shutter Island’.”   And indeed, there are striking parallels, most notably in the look-and-feel of the central character -- a hunted, haunted figure, ostensibly engaged in detective work.  And that far-fetched possible interpretation of ‘Memento’ I mentioned earlier, whereby it parallels the second, revised ending of ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ -- the bad guy is actually a psychiatrist who has been attempting to help the protagonist, who turns out to be a killer -- is realized here.

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