Tagged Christopher Nolan

Memento’s Deconstructionist Form

Memento. 2000. Directed & Written by Christopher Nolan; based on the short story “Memento Mori” by Jonathan Nolan.
Starring Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Mark Boone Junior, Russ Fega, Jorja Fox, Stephen Tobolowsky, Harriet Sansom Harris, Thomas Lennon, & Callum Keith Rennie. Newmarket Capital Group/Team Todd/I Remember Productions.
Rated 14A. 113 minutes.
Mystery/Thriller

★★★★★
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Christopher Nolan has moved on to bigger blockbuster-type movies. Once his reiteration of the classic Batman character hit theatres, nothing was ever the same for his career. Much as I’m a fan of his Batman trilogy, even a big Batman fan before him, the Nolan I prefer most is the one who did Following, remade Insomnia, and of course the one responsible for this cinematic gem, Memento.
Right at the turn of the 21st century, Nolan gave us an interesting mystery film that defies the expectations of the genre. It’s a thriller that works backward through the chronological order, instead of forward, and in a way is anticlimactic. However, for all its different techniques the movie never feels too much like a try-hard indie, hoping to break the mould with a script that’s beyond quirky. There’s every bit of the independent film spirit within this piece of work. Although, Nolan never goes for the cheap thrill. This is a cerebral thriller, stained with blood and mystery and the shattered frame of a brain’s memories. Guy Pearce puts in a whopping performance in a tough role that effectively put him up there with the best actors of his generation. Every scene is interesting because it not only looks good, they all force you to think forward, backward, every which way. The structure of the movie lends a hand to the plot, the focus on memories and a backward sequence of trying to retrace one’s steps (literally one’s memories). A powerful revenge story that’s fuelled by heart, though ultimately a story that never resolves itself fully. And that’s part of the point, as we take the journey with the main character Leonard (Pearce) discovering there’s no way to fully resolve his situation. At the bottom of it all, there’s the question of revenge itself, and if it would make a difference to Leonard.
While Leonard has no short term memory because of an attack on him and his wife, precipitating his seeking revenge, this is a way for Nolan to ask us: is revenge worth it, even if you could remember?
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Part of Memento‘s interesting charm overall is the way Nolan challenges how we watch a film. In turn, this calls to mind how Leonard himself recalls memory. We come to like he does in the midst of his day, in places where he doesn’t exactly remember (unless they’re marked on one of his cue cards or tattooed on his body). The writing, the scenes and how they’re edited into one another like stitching, this all initiates us into the experience of Leonard and his memory issues.
So while it may feel like a gimmick to some Nolan employs the backward chronological order for a specific purpose, to replicate those ideas of memory while simultaneously playing with the format of film itself, as well as how the audience watches one. The clerk at the motel (played by the excellent Mark Boone Junior) says it best, that feeling like you’re waking up everyday – how Leonard describes his condition – must have everything feel backwards, literally describing the film and its structure: Leonard thinks he wants to do something, but he’s not sure about what he’s just done. The writing is truly genius. If you don’t admire Nolan’s filmmaking, another aspect in which he excels generally, how can you not find his writing compelling? This screenplay speaks volumes. At first there feels like an intricate-style, labyrinthine weaving to the plot. And to a degree there is. Yet the way Nolan presents it makes the difficulty wear off. Soon you find yourself along with Leonard for the ride, full stop. Something I dig is the fact that this backward order of scenes kind of prevents us from trying to think ahead, it takes away that element of jumping past the story and worrying more about “whodunit” than any of the best parts about the plot, the film as a final product, so on.MCDMEME EC031A moment I love is the first real flashback we get from Leonard, concerning his wife. Because it starts out while he’s in the diner, then when he closes his eyes the sound design takes all that noise out – the other patrons, dishes clinking together, food frying, et cetera – and we fall inside his head with him. The cinematography throughout the entire film is spectacular. In this scene, there’s a beautiful, dreamy quality to the memories, the raw, genuine stuff Leonard can remember. This distinctly divides parts of the movie, as we get this nice sort of washed out look to the regular parts of the present, a sparkling beauty to the memories of his wife, a darkness to the night of her death, and then there are the black-and-white flashbacks to other portions of Leonard’s life, including his old job, Sammy (Stephen Tobolowsky), his conversation on the telephone in the motel room. Nolan seamlessly connects these looks to make a whole, a palette that stretches out over just a little under two solid hours. It’s a rich, interesting tapestry that will captivate any curious audience. The directorial choices from Nolan are what make his screenplay work, proving he’s a solid writer as much as he is a director.
The plot is what makes this movie so unique, yes. Pearce is the soul which drives the story. His voice-over narration is spot on. Moreover, he constantly embodies Leonard, keeping us confused along with him until the pieces fall together. The way Pearce plays Leonard makes us feel for him. At times, we might even get a bit frustrated; both for him and with him. In the more frantic moments Pearce truly wrings out the empathetic qualities, pleading with us to feel his pain, and most times it takes very few pleads. He makes Leonard charming, to the point, he’s an odd man due to his condition yet there is a friendly feel to him. This single performance is why I’ve kept an interest in Pearce, no matter the role he takes. A once in a lifetime performance in a strange, innovative bit of mystery cinema.
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This is one of the first great movies of the 2000s, right as the new century came about. Memento takes you by the hand, down a bumpy road filled with unreliable characters, an unreliable narrator, and throws you down the corridor of revenge on a trail of broken memories. There aren’t any better films that relay the feeling of memory. Above all, Nolan’s writing and directing – aided by the incredible cinematography of Wally Pfister – takes us through the process of what it’s like to rebuild memory, to have to out of necessity for the revenge of a terrible event. Along the way we spend time with Leonard, who’s most certainly a classic film character that will go down with the greats, and Pearce flesh him out well to the point we’re caught up intricately with his dilemma right to the bitter end. Again, I do love Nolan’s later work – The Prestige is one of my favourites out of his catalogue – yet I can’t help returning to his earliest efforts, such as this treat. Over any plot or character developments, Memento gives us a masterclass in form, allowing the cinematic techniques Nolan brings to the screen to play the lead character even above Pearce. Don’t mistake it: this is not a movie, it’s a defining experience of film.

INTERSTELLAR Takes Us on an Existential Ride Through Space & Time

Interstellar. 2014.  Directed by Christopher Nolan.  Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Wes Bentley, Jessica Chastain, Jon Lithgow, Mackenzie Foy, David Gyasi, Casey Affleck, William Devane, David Oyelowo, Casey Affleck, Matt Damon, Topher Grace, and Leah Cairns.  Paramount Pictures.  Rated PG.  169 minutes.  Adventure/Drama/Sci-Fi

★★★★1/2

interstellar3I was excited to see Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar for a number of different reasons. One of those being I have really enjoyed Nolan and his films since first seeing Memento, and then going on to explore the other films he would continue to make, as well as going back to his excellent feature length debut Following. Second, I’ve also always liked Matthew McConaughey.  Dazed and Confused was a staple of my first years at university, and no matter how many terrible rom-coms, et cetera, he went on to do before coming into his real own as an actor I could never get enough of his sly charm. On top of all that I’m a big fan of science fiction, so Interstellar looked from the beginning of its announcement to be something worth getting excited over in the genre.

The story of the film is similar to others, in that Earth has been devastated in the future, so scientists and great minds alike have been trying to figure out ways to either sustain the planet or find somewhere new to colonize and continue on with mankind’s ultimate fate. Ex-NASA test pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), along with his daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy), end up stumbling upon a top secret facility out amongst the desolate cornrows and dust storms of the now desert-like conditions near their home. When they do, it comes to their surprise scientists have been working on finding another planet so as to get human beings away from Earth, in order to try and avoid extinction. Cooper is recruited to go into space along with several others, and tasked with finding a planet suitable for sustaining human life.
interstellar-01I’ve really got to say, I was pretty bored for the first hour or so. However, once the mission sort of kicks into gear things got interesting. I’m not one of these people who needs constant action, of any sort, to keep me occupied. This is not my style. I just couldn’t get into the beginning of the film, honestly. Though, I enjoyed the characters, especially Cooper and his family; the dynamic between McConaughey and Foy as father-daughter was great, plus John Lithgow is always a damn treat for me.
interstellar01I like the character development in the family, particularly McConaughey – throughout the rest of the film after all the initial setup falls into place, his struggle is some of the most interesting stuff that’s going on. Nolan has stated this is very much a human film about families, in a sense, and I do not disagree with that whatsoever. Cooper goes through a great struggle, especially in the early part of Interstellar. It’s incredible, and heartbreaking, to imagine what things would have to be like for astronauts who will eventually have to deal with time shifts and other such problems – going into areas of space where one hour there equals a year or more on Earth. Of course, McConaughey does a fabulous job with the character of Cooper. He’s turned into one enormous, powerhouse of an actor.
o-jessica-chastain-interstellar-facebookThere are a couple other notable performances I did enjoy other than McConaughey. I usually love Jessica Chastain – here, no different. She provided just enough of what I hoped the character Murph would come to be, and once again proves she has real talent – some of the moments with her came off extremely emotional, very genuine. Aside from their physical resemblance, Mackenzie Foy and Chastain worked well as the same character, younger and older versions respectively; each of them carry the same adventurous and rebel charm.

A few of the smaller roles were done well. David Gyasi did a great job as one of the astronauts along with McConaughey’s Cooper – he kept me interested every time his character was in a scene; one scene I have to mention is after two of the other astronauts return after quite a length of time away, and the way Gyasi played this just felt perfect.
I was particularly surprised, in a great way, to see both Casey Affleck (as the older version of Cooper’s son) and Matt Damon as Dr. Mann. In particular, I really enjoyed Affleck. His voice has something about it which consistently strikes me as interesting, and in this role really fit well with that – though, his role is not exactly major I really liked the scenes he appeared in, especially the videos sent from Earth to his father in space. Excellent choice to include both Affleck and Damon as minor characters because they lend a lot of their excellent talent towards filling out an already pretty damn good cast.
interstellar-03What truly does Interstellar justice overall is the gorgeous cinematography, courtesy of Hoyte Van Hoytema whose work includes Let the Right One InThe Fighter, and Her. This is just truly beautiful stuff. Not only is the cinematography remarkably beautiful to look at, Nolan actually had some set pieces built; for instance, the interior of the space shuttle and such locations. I think this really worked well. Granted, right from the start of any science fiction film, for the most part, you know there’ll be at least a certain degree of computer generated imagery. However, Nolan helps make things a little more real by using these built locations. I loved the spaceship itself. The inside is really wonderful. There will be plenty of comparisons to some of the most famous science fiction films of all-time, and I’m sure Nolan included a couple bits in homage to those, but with the look and feel of the film Interstellar stands on its own. It is most certainly a modern science fiction movie, in terms of views (mostly scientific) presented, and the aesthetic look/feel reinforce this fact.
Interstellar-Matthew-McConaughey-850x560-600x357Added to all this is another fantastic score by Hans Zimmer. Lots of people like to say his composing sounds similar from film to film, and they do, but that’s part of a technique I believe he readily employs; he likes to work with patterns, repetitions, similar cycles. Regardless of that, I love his work, all the time.  He does a lot of great composing for Nolan’s films in recent years. This sounds so much different from those other works, and I love that it does because that aspect really sets it apart from Nolan’s other movies – especially his recent work on the Dark Knight trilogy. Zimmer is one hell of a composer. His music lifts so many moments above and beyond what they already were, and kept me so entranced at times it is wild. I really, really could not get enough of the final hour in regards to Zimmer’s score – there was this real fugue-esque sound he achieved, which not only brought the intensity to a higher level but also really made scenes feel incredibly ominous. Great music.
interstellar-1920Overall, I’ve got to say this an amazing movie. A definite 4.5 out of 5 stars. The only thing that holds me back from giving Nolan’s film a full 5-star rating is the beginning; I really found it lagged, hard. While it did keep me interested enough to stick with things, and it did not affect my overall opinion of the film too negatively, I still believe Nolan dragged his feet a little out of the gate. Mostly, there was just a bit more talk than I feel was necessary. I love scripts with a lot of dialogue. Here, I just felt as if there was almost too much an emphasis on worrying about explaining things – as if the Nolan brothers were anticipating the usual hordes of people looking to debunk every single sentence and bit and piece of a science fiction film. In lieu of including a lot of scientific talk about space travel, et cetera, I think the film could’ve cut out at least 15-20 minutes and not been hurt in any way. Despite that, Interstellar is a truly wonderful movie full of all the things I love about science fiction. It does have its own message, but I think one of the great things is the fact the movie addresses human intervention/the advances & mistakes of humans themselves into the whole concept of interstellar travel better than I could have imagined – especially once Cooper meets Dr. Mann, and the events that follow on to the end of the film. Nolan really has great ideas; very human, very existential. Not only the way he makes films, the way he writes and thinks of/explores themes is also pretty excellent. See this movie, enjoy it. There are great performances, a very nice script full of adventure, spectacular sound design and score, plus great imagery. This is one wild science fiction epic by a continually innovative filmmaker.