After finally seeing Christopher Nolan’s 2000 mystery thriller, Memento, I can safely say it was one of the most narratively complex films I have ever seen – and it certainly did not disappoint. Through it’s complex narrative structure, the film explores dual storylines: one exploring the plot going forward in time, and the second revealing the story backwards.
The premise of the film follows Leonard, played by Guy Pearce, an ex-insurance investigator who is searching for his wife’s murderer, all the while struggling with his short-term memory loss.
Nolan used several techniques to weave these two timelines into one another to unveil the complex plot, and also allow the audience to see the world from the protagonist’s perspective. As an audience, we are given a subjective viewpoint where we are fed information through the protagonist’s thoughts as he is thinking them; and an objective viewpoint, which gives the audience more information about how Leonard lives his life.
Not only does this confusing narrative structure work to engage the audience, but also takes the concept of ‘who-knows-what-when’ to another level. Throughout the entire length of the film, the audience is denied the same information that the protagonist is denied.
Through this structure, Christopher Nolan was also able to create an incredibly extreme ending by giving puzzle pieces from both the objective and subjective viewpoints. In an interview regarding the story and construction of Memento, Christopher Nolan said “most movies create a comfortable universe, where the audience is given an objective truth that we don’t get in everyday life. In this film, we didn’t really do that, we didn’t want to step outside his head, we wanted to present the audience with the same problem – he can’t really get outside of his head.”