Tag Archives: Memento

“THE DARK KNIGHT” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Two madmen at war with each other and themselves.

Editor’s note: I was originally going to hold off on publishing this review due to an upcoming in-depth article I’m working on. However, upon learning that today would have been Heath Ledger’s 37th birthday, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to honor the late actor’s magnificent work. So, without further adieu, here is my review for the magnificent superhero epic that is ‘The Dark Knight.’

The Dark Knight is a moral dilemma about two madmen trying to make sense out of their own worlds. One hides his madness with a mask. The other demonstrates it proudly with a crooked smile and a demented laugh. We define one as “good” and the other as “bad”, but really, what’s the real difference between these two? They are both traumatized by tragedies they’ve experienced at very young ages, and one was clearly more devastating than the other. Just switch around Bruce Wayne’s childhood with that of the Joker’s for a second. Is it really that far-fetched to think that they could have grown up to become the other person?

It’s difficult to draw such similar parallels between a film’s protagonist and antagonist, especially in a superhero movie where everything is supposed to be so cut and dry. But Christopher Nolan orchestrates his characters masterfully here in The Dark Knight, a film that feels more like a Shakespearean tragedy than it does as a superhero blockbuster. It isn’t a film that is driven by big-budget fights and special effects, although those technical elements definitely don’t suffer in the movie all the same. This is a movie driven by character’s ambitions, desires, loss, and pain. Rarely does a film reach into such dark depths and have such outstanding payoff.

This movie is, of course, the sequel to Nolan’s highly praised 2005 prequel Batman Begins, which too succeeds in showing Bruce Wayne not as a comic book icon, but as a human being, reliably portrayed by Christian Bale with his own complexions and regrets. The Dark Knight continues Bruce’s story, but takes focus off of Batman and puts a larger focus on Gotham, the city Bruce is sworn to protect. In doing that, Nolan inadvertently creates another character in the Batman story, and you only need to look at its citizens to see what the character is like. It’s manipulative, murderous, deceitful, selfish, and crooked, with the only evidence of decency in only a handful of citizens wanting to do the right thing.

Heath Ledger’s Joker, of course, sees the sick nature of Gotham and imposes his own version of justice upon the city. From a different perspective, could the Joker be considered the hero of the story? Both Batman and the Joker are vigilantes in their own ways. The difference is who they see as the main poison to Gotham.

Like any other superhero, Batman sees the criminals and mob bosses as the biggest culprits to Gotham’s decay. The Joker, however, sees it differently. He sees the city’s politicians, judges, police officers, and commissioners as the real criminals. Technically, neither is wrong. All of these people are responsible for the state that Gotham is in, and Batman and Joker are just picking two different sides to the same coin. Our instinct tells us to root for Batman, mostly because we are the everyday regular citizen he’s fighting to protect. But the Joker has been hurt day-in and day-out by regular citizens. So has Batman. His parents were killed by a citizen of Gotham. The Joker forces citizens to kill each other in The Dark Knight. In witnessing all of this murder and corruption taking place, you can’t help but ask yourself one question: are we even worth saving?

This gloomy idea of morality has been explored by Christopher Nolan before. Indeed, his career has been defined by character’s questioning ethics in 2000’s Memento and 2006’s The Prestige. Look at those films and how eerily similar they are to The Dark Knight. Look at the parallels not just in character and theme, but in tone and aesthetic. Look at how closely they are shot. Look at how tightly the action is edited together, yet coherent enough to understand everything we need to. Look at the character’s conflicts that test them and, in some cases, even break them. Look at their state of mind and security, and how quickly they decay in the midst of crippling loss, paranoia, and distrust.

This is why The Dark Knight is almost universally seen as the best comic book movie of all time: because it is not a comic book movie. Nolan didn’t film it like a comic book movie. He didn’t want to make a comic book movie, or at least, in the conventional sense. Everything involved with this movie, from the writing to the framing to the visual effects to the acting, was constructed with the idea that Nolan and Warner Bros. were making something much more than a comic book movie. They were making a crime film, a psychological drama, and a visual poem in disguise as a superhero blockbuster.

Just to clarify, I’m not knocking the superhero genre. Some of the greatest movies of all time spawned out of that genre, and if done right, it can be the best out of any of the other film genres. Christopher Reeve’s Superman and Superman II humanized a superhero that was anything but human. Spider-Man made an ordinary character extraordinary. X2 embedded a message of prejudice into an action-fueled sci-fi thriller.

Great superhero movies have come before The Dark Knight, and many more will come after. But what makes The Dark Knight unique is not its status as a quote-unquote “superhero” movie. It is its mirroring psychology that makes you question what is truly right or wrong. Superhero movies don’t normally do that. They normally provide our hero and our villain and have them go at each other in fun, comic-booky fashion. But that wasn’t enough for The Dark Knight. It needed to ask why they were going after each other, and what was at stake if they didn’t do so? This is one of the rare action movies that questions if our hero is actually doing the right thing, and if he’s fighting this labeled villainy in the right way.

In these characterizations, the performances are key, and Bale and Ledger alike to brilliant work in not just bringing their characters to life, but their beliefs as well. Ledger has received all the acclaim and the Academy Award for best supporting actor as the Joker, and he’s right to. He’s delivered a downright chilling portrayal of a mentally disturbed madman: a brilliant finish to a long and successful career up until his death in 2008. Yet, I don’t think many people notice Bale’s nuanced performance as a man struggling to know and do the right thing. That’s genuinely a shame, because the movie is a success due to their acting together, not just one performance over the other. Again, they treat their characters not as superheros and supervillains, but as competing complexions, battling each other not for the sake of justice, but for the sake of proving their own personally defined morality. At the end of the day, isn’t the battle of morality more powerful than any physical battle can ever be?

The film builds up to it’s highly-anticipated climax in classic Nolan fashion. The final battle, however, is not between our hero and villain, but instead between the two sides of Gotham. One side has been convicted by the law. The other has been convicted by God. And in their convictions, both sides are forced to make a choice. I won’t spoil what happens, but I will say this: they make the right one.

Batman and Joker are not two different people. They are two sides to the same coin. We too exist on a coin and have the equal potential of being either Batman or the Joker. It’s only a matter of what we choose to be.

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“MEMENTO” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Like solving a puzzle backwards and then back together.

I’ve never been so attentive to a plot in a way that I was with Christopher Nolan’s Memento.  I’ve never been so immersed, so mesmerized, so hypnotized by the plot, by the narrative, by the structure, and by the character himself and everything he has to struggle with.  When I asked a friend of mine what it was like watching Memento, he said to me “It’s like reading a book, except chapter one is the epilogue, the epilogue is chapter two, and chapter one is sprawled out throughout the book until it reaches the end of the book, which in reality, is the beginning.”

I know, I know, it sounds confusing.  But believe me, the structure of storytelling in this film only adds to the fascination that I feel for the main character.  The film begins with a photograph, a small photo showing a dead body lying on the ground with his brains blown out.  The man holding it shakes it a couple of times, but after a couple of seconds the celluloid fades to white, as if it just came out of the camera stock.

Blood shifts along the ground.  Glass forms back together.  A bullet floats off of the ground and enters itself back into the chamber of a gun.  As the man fires it and cocks it, the corpse he shot on the ground lifts his head, blood flows from the ground back into his head, and his glasses form back together just in time for him to shout “NO!” at the man in front of him before he points the gun at him.

If you’re confused at this, don’t be.  This sequence is shown in reverse, inverted from the normal time stream of what would normally be happening in this situation.  Even though the scene plays backwards, we understand the basic points of it: a man shoots someone and takes a picture of his dead body.

Consider this an outline for the rest of the film.  Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) is a man who struggles with short-term memory loss.  He suffers from this condition after sustaining a severe injury from an unknown assailant who stormed inside his house, slammed his head against the mirror, raped his wife, and then killed her while he was passed out.

Fast forward to the present as Leonard suffers from his current condition.  He remembers who he was, where he came from, and how he got to the place he’s now at, but due to his condition he is incapable of making new memories.  Depite this, he’s now on a quest to find the man who killed his wife and stole his memory by leaving himself notes, taking photographs, and marking tattoos on his body to serve as his reminders that his irreversible memory condition won’t allow him to remember.

Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, the same guy who made the 1998 neo-noir film FollowingMemento is the sort of movie that can define a career.  This is a plot as heavy, thick, and deceptive as they come, a clever and concise thriller that is exciting and interesting in every pulse-pounding moment of the film.  Much of this has to do with the film’s structure, and Nolan’s expert timing with the film’s plot.

Take, for instance, his decision to structure the story in reverse order.  Many would look at this and think that this would lead to a confusing, convoluted story.  I think that’s the opposite of what we see here.  Imagine it like you’re watching a police detective working at the scene of a crime: he always starts at the end, but if he follows the right path, he’ll always end up where the story began.  That’s exactly how Memento plays out, and the payoff at the end (beginning?) couldn’t have been greater when all is revealed by the film’s conclusion.

Another thing that makes this film stand out is Guy Pearce.  Here he portrays a disturbed man, a man haunted by his past and by his situation so much that it taints his mind like it does the blood on his jacket.  I heard from a friend that the role was originally intended to be portrayed by an A-lister like Brad Pitt or Aaron Eckhart, but Nolan eventually opted for a lesser-known actor that would bring as much energy and enthusiasm to the role.  His decision was a smart one.  Guy Pearce is perfect as Leonard, capturing the right amount of turmoil and paranoia that comes with people taunted by mental disorders while at the same time retaining the emotion that shows that he is a confused, misunderstood man.

But again, his struggle only leads back to the films structure.  And no matter how Nolan formats his story, I’m surprised at how much it holds up despite the unstable nature of the film’s narrative.

I challenge you to study the plot in this film.  Not to just watch it and react to it, but to look into it and analyze it.  Observe the film as Nolan transitions from one scene to another.  Try to find one plot hole in this film.  Not four, not three, not even two.  One.  I’ll bet you $100 bucks that you won’t find a single plothole in this film.  Not one.

If you think you found one, I bet you $150 that someone can find an opposing argument, and $200 that you’ll end up being wrong.

I keep twisting this film inside and out.  I keep going back to it, looking through it, rewatching it, trying to pick it apart and find any possible flaw I can point out with this movie.  I cannot.  Every single frame of every single second in Memento is tense, fascinating, and mesmerizing, capturing both your attention and your mind early in the film and refusing to let go until the very last slide of the end credits roll.  It’s one of those movies you watch that as soon as you’re done watching it, you go back to the theater just so you can experience it again.

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