That's the fascinating premise of "Memento," one of the cleverest movies to comes along in ages. British director Christopher Nolan, whose first film, "Following," was a promising albeit undeveloped debut, outdoes himself here, structuring an ingenious multi-layered, fragmented storyline that could easily have collapsed like a house of cards but never does. In effect, the movie unfolds like the faulty memory of its lead character, Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce, brilliant as a human cipher). He needs to refer to photographs and written notes so he can remember who the individuals in his life are when he meets them again. The film, based on an unpublished short story by the director's brother, Jonathan, does the same, introducing a scene, then going backwards to reveal its secrets. Either the real motivations of the characters are uncovered or we learn how a specific photo came into being and why it's been labeled a certain way. Then there are the disquieting black-and-white sequences, which seem to hint at a solution to the mystery, wherein Leonard speaks to an unidentified person on the phone about someone else with the same faulty memory syndrome. It all makes for riveting, compelling cinema.
Most impressive is the way Nolan juggles all the elements of this highly fractured narrative, artfully revealing the big picture but also slipping in an unanticipated and chilling climax, one that makes you reappraise everything that has gone before. "Memento" is that rare film that needs--and deserves--second viewings. It's that unique. Starring Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano. Directed and written by Christopher Nolan. Produced by Jennifer Todd and Suzanne Todd. A Newmarket release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 113 min.