Neo-Noir Elements of Memento

Memento is a film about a man, Leonard Shelby with anterograde amnesia which leaves him unable to create new memories.  He spends most of the film trying to put together pieces of a puzzle to find his wife’s killer.  There are a couple of elements of this film that allow it to be classified as neo-noir. In terms of setting and atmosphere, it is not a classically noir film.  However, one of the main elements of the film that allow it to be a neo-noir is the way the story is told and the anxiety that is maintained throughout the film.  

Memento is one of my favorite films that we’ve watched in class so far because I felt it truly lived up to the name of the course, Anxiety of Cinema.  Throughout the whole film I was trying to guess what was going to happen next, and kept in this constant state of anxiety.  Much of this had to do with the way the story was told.  It was told in a non-linear narrative, so at first it was confusing and required that you pay attention throughout the whole film.  Little by little, we’re given pieces of the puzzle and then finally at the end we see the pieces come together but we’re still left unsure who to trust.  I feel this is a classic element of noir films, not knowing which character to trust.  At first you empathize with Leonard and assume he’s helpless because of his condition, but the end throws you for a loop when you find out he may have been sabotaging his memory on purpose and that you can’t trust his character either.  This only heightens the feeling of anxiety.  

Another element of noir in Memento is that appearance of a femme fatale, in this case Natalie.  Natalie is one of the constant characters in Leonard’s life, but someone he meets after his accident.  So when we meet her and Teddy, we are left wondering if these characters are helping Leonard or if they are playing on Leonard’s condition and trying to use it to their advantage.  It turns out that Natalie is the one that is lying to Leonard and using his condition to her advantage.  She fits the description of the classic femme fatale.  

Memento was one of the most interesting films we’ve watched in class in my opinion because of the heightened sense of anxiety that was created that kept you engrossed in the film.  This was done through the mental landscape more than anything else and the way the story was told, through two different narratives.  What did everyone else think of the film?

One thought on “Neo-Noir Elements of Memento

  1. I agree, Chamandeep. Memento is a fascinating movie and, in my opinion, the most imaginative take on the noir trope in recent memory. The Wachowski brothers’ Bound, a recommended film this week, is also interesting but does not experiment with narrative structure the way Memento does. There are few movies that are structured similarly. Betrayal, based on a play by Harold Pinter, is structured much the same way. A 1997 episode of Seinfeld, called “The Betrayal” in an allusion to Pinter’s play also unravels backwards much like Memento. Here’s an interesting and fairly brief explanation of Memento’s narrative structure.

    And, by the way, today’s class discussion WILL include spoilers. So be ready.

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