There are certain films that require intelligence.
Pure and simple. You won't survive without it.
It's doubtful you'll even enjoy the film if you can't wrap your brain around its ideas, thoughts and concepts.
These films are dangerous for filmmakers, because they don't rely on emotional release, catharsis or manipulation. They don't ambush the audience with emotions or offer easy outs in suspenseful situations.
These films are brilliant and, quite bluntly, you must be pretty damn close to brilliant to connect with such a film.
"Memento" is such a film.
Now, the challenging confession. I am NOT a brilliant man. I cannot dazzle you with my philosophical ramblings on the existential meanings of life or the inner workings of any character with the possible exception of Cartman, Stan and Kenny from "South Park."
I am not saying I am stupid...not by any means. I am saying, however, that when a film such as "Memento" comes along I find myself getting a headache because of how intensely I must focus to really "get it." Films such as "Memento" require an investment by the audience...it is an investment in listening, thinking, processing and re-processing. Being the touchy/feely type, as I am, is not good enough in a film such as "Memento," because the director, here it's Christopher Nolan, intentionally avoids the pitfalls of an over-emoting script, emotionally manipulative scenes and, most importantly, an satisfying, emotionally conclusive ending.
In "Memento," we meet Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce). Shelby is a former insurance investigator and a surviving crime victime who is attempting to find the man who raped and murdered his wife (Jorja Fox). This, in itself, is fairly straightforward. the film, however, is not. Shelby is challenged because in the attack he suffered permanent brain damage and no longer has short-term memory. His long-term memory is intact, but his ability to remember people, names, places and events is non-existent, no matter how often it may occur. He must resort to a series of Polaroid shots to use as his constant reminders as he attempts to backtrack in his mind towards the killer of his wife.
He is aided, perhaps, in the journey by Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) and Natalie (Carrie Ann Moss).
Nolan has structured the film in such a way that it is moving backwards in an episodic way. It is as if we see short-term excerpts and, like Shelby, must work with him to piece together the puzzle, figure out how to believe, and figure out which pieces of evidence are significant or even true.
Pearce is positively astounding in the role of Leonard Shelby. It is uncomfortable and, at times, painful to watch him as he attempts to sort out the details, uncover those things he's lost, and determine the real ideas, intentions and motivations of those who profess to be helping him.
The journey itself is never truly revealed, again a characteristic of a film of true intelligence. It would have been an easy out for Nolan to reveal his answers, or simply to fall back on the potentially horrifying emotions involved here. Nolan doesn't take the easy out at any point in this process. Instead, he leaves practically every door open in this stylish, well-produced and beautifully photographed film so that the audience must itself choose the truth.
"Memento" is a film that requires great intelligence that sparkles with the inherent tension of following a man determined to right the greatest wrong in his life despite having no memory of it. In a world where Hollywood often presents films as "paint by number," Christopher Nolan has produced a film leaving the canvas blank and challenging us, the audience, to paint the picture. It's a courageous idea that works brilliantly.