When telling a story, it's usually best to start at the beginning--it's easier that way and less confusing for the audience. However, there are exceptions and Momento is such an example. A tale told from end to start, Momento is a smart, captivating film; its creative presentation and dead-on delivery make it not just surprising story-telling, but exceptional film-making as well.
It opens with a Polaroid undeveloping, starting the backwards motion. The photo depicts the bloody mess of a newly-dead body. The photographer is Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) a man with no short-term memory. Brain-damaged after being attacked by his wife's murderers, he cannot create new memories. If he meets you, he won't remember you 15 minutes later. To compensate, he takes Polaroids, marking the back with information ranging from names to places to reminders of who to kill. Most his interactions focus on two people: a woman named Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss), who according to her Polaroid will help Leonard out of pity; and a shady, strange man named Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) whose photo reminds Leonard not to trust him.
Seeking revenge for his wife's death, Leonard hunts her surviving murderer (he shoots the first one before he blacks out) and keeps the important information about his investigation close to him permanently. Every new clue Leonard uncovers he tattoos on his chest, his arms or his thighs.
Most of Momento is told in reverse order. The first scene is really the last in this story; the last scene is really the first. The confusion this creates heightens the sense of not knowing, of trying to put together the scrambled facts that Leonard faces. One set of black and white scenes however run forward, eventually meeting up with the backwards sequence, leading to a truly surprising ending.
While the pieces of the puzzle may not fit easily together, the different pieces of Momento mesh to make a smooth movie. The oddly-ordered scenes still flow; the movie isn't as hard to follow as you'd think. The cinematography, while understated, is a character in itself. Different camera angles reflect different sides of the story and the characters without having to resort to dialogue. The writing is perfect; every scene and every word is a clue to the truth. However, the most memorable aspect of Momento is the acting. Both Pantoliano and Moss give convincing performances, but pale in comparison to that of their co-star. As Leonard, Pearce has such range that it's hard to believe he's only acting.
There's a scene--a flashback--in Momento that captures it all.
Leonard nags his wife about a book she is reading. She's obviously read it many times--the pages are curled and the cover is missing--but insists on going through it again because she enjoys it, she wants the details. However, doesn't understand. Why read a book more than once? Don't you just want to find out what happens? As each scene in Momento unfolds and develops onscreen, all you'll want to know is what's happening next, what the next piece of the puzzle is and how it will all fit together. However, when the theatre goes black and the credits crawl up the screen, all you'll want to do is watch it over, to sift through the clues and details, to examine each piece again and again.