20 Mementos from Christopher Nolan’s Breakthrough Film

We’ve all seen Christopher Nolan’s second feature Memento – at least you better had. Following his no-budget debut named, well, Following, Nolan teamed up with his brother Jonathan to concoct a motion picture narrative still innovative and head-scratching over fifteen years later. Memento has infinite moments of brilliance, as our protagonist Leonard is embroiled in a personal memory deficit like no other. Here are 20 little nuggets that may or may not be discoveries to you, but unlikely to make impressive tattoos. Depending on your taste of course. Leave your comments at the bottom.

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• The close-up shot of the fresh bullet shell rolling away is actually the only forward motion part of the opening sequence. The rest was filmed in reverse, but Nolan found a more natural motion by blowing on it from off-shot.

• The black and white segments of the picture, the chronological chunks, were filmed in a much more documentary style in both visuals and sound.

• Nolan’s brother Jonathan wrote a short story named Memento Mori. The concepts within the plot inspired Christopher to make Memento his next feature film. Both brothers dived into the screenplay, and production of the film completed before Jonathan even finished his short story.

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• The quick cuts to Leonard’s wife towards the end of the film were segments suggested by editor Dody Dorn. Nolan agreed, even at that already stage, it was layering Leonard’s snappy memory and fit the context.

• Many of the physical motifs used to tell the story were very much inspired by Nolan’s own tendancy to write notes on his hand and take photographs in his every day life.

• Initially, Nolan wanted an exclusively blue palette for he set design and surroundings. That is until his production designer persuaded him to expand his colors. Though blue still plays a significant part in Memento’s look.

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• Nolan did not want to reference film noir directly, or pay homage to any particular movie – but he has admitted Double Indemnity was a huge influence.

• The misunderstanding of Leonard’s condition, that it is not amnesia but a short term memory problem caused by a blow to the head, is made clear through an exchange early in the film.

• While shooting Memento, Nolan would perch by the lens of the camera to get a much clearer vision of the shot. As a film director he has carried this technique with him, he would rather not be sitting in front of the monitor with headphones on.

• Blink and you’ll miss it. Nolan’s own car appears briefly in Memento parked next to the jaguar that Leonard drives.

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• Nolan claims that he often remembers movies, or sequences of movies, in reverse frame, kind of like standing the other side of the screen in a film theater.

• It was Guy Pearce, who plays Leonard, that wanted to die his hair blonde for the character. Hesitant at first, Nolan went with it believing it gave Leonard another level of small mystery.

• The 1987 movie Angel Heart was an inspiration for Nolan, given the film’s late twist. On repeat viewings you, as an audience member, process the film in a slightly different way, knowing the ending. Nolan wanted to capture that element of surprise and re-watching with Memento.

• Even with the complex screenplay, time jumps, acting commitments, wardrobe changes, location limitations etc etc. Memento was still shot in just 25 days.

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• It was Carrie-Anne Moss that suggested Joe Pantoliano for the role of Teddy. Nolan wanted someone who you could have doubts about, without wholly being convinced they are a bad guy. Carrie-Anne and Joe had just worked together of course on The Matrix.

• The eye glasses flying off when Teddy is killed was the Pantoliano’s idea after discussing with Nolan about how much violence they wanted to show that early on.

• Although Nolan wanted Leonard’s age (and many aspects of his character) to be as ambiguous as possible, in the screenplay he is noted to be in his mid-30s.

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• Nolan hoped audiences didn’t notice that having to change hotel rooms on a very limited shoot meant the window in one exterior / interior scene was on different sides of the door. Swings and roundabouts.

• There was quite a bit of improvisation from Guy Pearce during the voice-overs. Nothing that detracted from the script, but rather the odd comment that helped build his character and inform the audience.

• The license plate that plays a huge part of Leonard’s investigation, SG13 7IU, is actually a United Kingdom postal code of a school from Nolan’s childhood.

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