Tribeca Film Festival: 10 years later, MEMENTO Still Confounds – A Report from the 10th Anniversary Screening

     April 25, 2010

Memento movie image - Jonathan Nolan and Chris Nolan.jpg

Audiences are still baffled by Memento, a decade after the film premiered to hundreds of rave reviews & thousands of debates between filmgoers over what they’d just seen.  You can count some of its stars among those still scratching their heads.

The Tribeca Film Festival celebrated Memento’s 10th anniversary with a sold-out screening & panel on the film & all of its neurological complications on Saturday at the School of Visual Arts Theater.   National Public Radio’s Robert Krulwich moderated the Q&A between: the film’s stars Guy Pearce and Joe Pantoliano; Jonathan Nolan (whose short story Memento Mori was the basis for the film & led to a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination for him & his brother/director/screenwriter Chris), New School professor of psychology Dr. William Hirst & MIT professor of psychology Dr. Suzanne Corkin.  Jonathan Nolan said Iceland’s volcanic ash kept the film’s director Christopher overseas.

Afterwards, Collider pressed Jonathan for details after the event about his involvement with the upcoming Dark Knight sequel, The Man Of Steel, & Justice League, but he politely declined on all fronts.  Nolan clearly wants to keep us guessing about his work that we haven’t seen, as much as the one we did on Saturday.  He would only re-confirm his work with Steven Spielberg on the sci-fi film Interstellar.  Hit the jump for all the panel’s highlights, including: why Pearce thinks he was hired, why viewers of the DVD don’t have the whole story, whether Nolan thinks Memento had an impact on Lost, & why Pantoliano suffers his own memory loss over his sex life.

Memento movie image (2).jpgNow, onto the panel’s highlights:

— Asked how he got the job, Guy Pearce joked, “I was cheap.”  When asked if he was cheaper than Brad Pitt (who reportedly was originally slated to star, but passed with “scheduling conflicts”), Pearce replied “Yes.  I still am.”  Nolan explained he & Chris were big fans of Pearce’s performance in LA Confidential before casting.

— Jonathan Nolan noted his brother Chris swapped out 2 critical shots for the home video edition, “just to mess with (audiences).”

— Nolan never intended his story to be told backwards & initially thought Chris’ concept of a timeline in reverse was “a bad idea.”

— Pantoliano & Pearce both acknowledged they have their own issues with memory & didn’t remember shooting some of the film.  Pantoliano admitted he’s hazy over other parts of his life; “I remember nailing my wife on the 1st date, but she tells me it took six months!” The crowd burstinto laughter, before his wife Nancy yelled from 10 rows back “It DID take six months!”

— Pearce said it wasn’t so tough to remember where he was emotionally during the individual shooting of the scenes because his character was supposed to be lost anyway.

— Jonathan pitched Memento to Chris on a cross-country road trip.  “We ran out of things to say around Minnesota,” Jonah explains.  “I pitched this idea I’d been kicking around about a guy with short-term memory loss & a quest for revenge.”

— Jonathan took a psych class as a student at Georgetown where he read about the condition & the idea took hold.  Nolan’s professor was less than enthused.  When he asked for help with his film idea, the professor referred him back to a textbook. Praised by the two professors on the panel for the film’s portrayal of the complex portrayal of his psychological problems, Nolan exclaimed “I definitely should’ve gotten more than a B in that class!”

Memento movie image (10).jpg— After the panel, Nolan looked pleasantly surprised when asked whether he saw the influence of Memento on TV shows that play with the timeline in a narrative structure, like Lost.  He explained, “I haven’t.  Maybe there’s something to it & I’m flattered by the comparison because I’m a big fan of the show.  Maybe in the dislocation of the flashbacks.  It puts you into a part of the timeline (where you don’t) have your bearings.  I would actually think it’s just that we share common attributes in the storytelling, more than (Memento) having an impact.   It’s funny, though.  After the film came out, we kept waiting for a trend to start (with the complex narrative structure, in terms of timeline), but it never did.  Whenever a film does well, Hollywood tries to duplicate it, but we were surprised that it never really happened.”


— Pearce said he loved the script when he received it, but was “embarrassed to say, I was confused by it.  I responded to it emotionally, the confusion” of the character.” He added that Leonard “felt an enormous amount of guilt and I think he was desperately trying to repress his emotional (memories).  He was desperate.  He’s living in a very confused emotional mess & he’s trying to avoid (dealing with) it.”  However, Pearce felt Pantoliano’s character Teddy “did deserve to be shot.”  He also had the strong belief that “Everything Teddy (Pantoliano) says in the final speech is the absolute truth.”  Nolan shot this down with an undeniable headshake.  Later, Nolan admitted, “I think the ambiguity is built into the film.  There is (Teddy’s) speech at the end of the film, but Chris’s rule was to make it as bullet-proof as possible.”

— Joe Pantoliano said he knew what happened because he had the benefit of asking Chris Nolan on each take during the 25 1/2 day shoot.  Yet, as Pantoliano began to explain the plot, his certainty shifted to phrases like “what I think happened.”  He does believe Leonard & his wife were attacked because “remember, there were two guys” in the attack scene.

Memento movie image (5).jpg— Pantoliano also offered: “Here’s the problem I have with the script.  Why (is my character) there?”  Chris Nolan told him during filming “You want the money,”  Pantoliano’s response: “then why don’t I take the money out of the trunk?”  Pearce chimed in: “you waited 10 years to ask that question.”  No sufficient answer was given, though Pantoliano joked that he is “still trying to figure out The Matrix.  (in which he appeared alongside fellow Memento cast member Carrie-Anne Moss).

— Nolan said the character “is definitely tearing apart the objective record.  Leonard really is at the mercy of his memory that he’s still making with his own justification.  (Chris) gave his take 10 years ago at the Venice Film Festival.  I convinced him that we’d make a lot more money if he never did that again.”  After the panel, when told the film had earned a lot of money, and with the special edition DVDs had already been on the market for years, he could safely reveal the plot, Nolan told Collider “there’s always more.”

— On what happened to “Leonard” since the film ended, Pearce guessed: “He’s gone to the hospital & he’s had a big lie down.”

Look for more from the Tribeca Film Festival soon.

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