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Memento: An Eternal Memory of Film Noir Essay

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Film noir as a genre began in America following the Great Depression with a visual style reminiscent of German Expressionist cinematography. It reflects the time’s general sense of pessimism, cynicism, and dark confusion. It became widely known for its psychologically expressive approach to visual composition and many definitive stylistic elements. The use of dark and white lighting, a morally ambiguous protagonist, loose plotlines, a corrupt authority figure, and a femme fatale character were among its defining features. Neo noir, a sub-genre of the classic definition, utilizes the core elements of film noir but with evolved characteristics better suited to contemporary society, particularly toward technological advances. Christopher Nolan’s neo noir psychological thriller Memento (2000) encompasses many of the widely known characteristics of classical film noir in a unique way. Its form, narrative, cinematography, and mise-en-scene show its undeniable place among modern neo noir film. It tells the story of Leonard (Guy Pearce), a grief stricken man in search of his wife’s killer—the same person responsible for his short-term memory loss leaving him frozen in time. Although he cannot make new memories, he attempts to seek vengeance for his wife’s murder with the help of reminders he leaves for himself, including polaroids with notes scrawled in the margins and tattoos covering his body. Among his notes are important people he meets, including Teddy (Joe Pantoliano), the corrupt police officer and Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss), the femme fatal with suspicious motives.
The film’s use of neo noir conventions is made evident right from the opening scene. It opens with a man fanning out a polaroid. In the picture is a body laying face d...


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...ure allows the viewer to share Leonard’s every experience and emotion whole-heartedly and work until the very last scene to piece the entire complicated puzzle together. This work speaks volumes to the capacity of film—not just what can be portrayed but what can be taken away. Every viewer undoubtedly walks away feeling the same rage, confusion, and helplessness Leonard felt every moment trapped in time. Even when he accomplishes what he has been working so desperately for—to find his wife’s killer—he realizes that he will never gain the satisfaction of feeling like her death was avenged because moments later, it is gone. In an almost tragic end to a story doomed from the start, Leonard’s life becomes one of searching for his wife’s killer because it is all he has left. His last memory has become who he is—a man eternally seeking a vengeance that he will never get.



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