Forgotten Films meets Scene Unseen:
Memento: The Beginning of the End

As soon as Christopher Nolan's Memento was released with its back to front yet still complete forward pointing plotting some audience members (well at least this audience member) wondered what the film would look like if all of the footage were to be edited into the correct chronological order. On the special edition version of the dvd that wish is answered in this special 'hidden' extra which, and this is why I'm listing it as a 'forgotten film', works perfectly well as a movie in and of itself. Well, alright, a crazy mixed up quasi-art house piece that breaks all the rules of classical narrative filmmaking and plays like dollop of video art straight from Tate Britain's white cube spaces, nut a movie nonetheless.

For those who don't know the story, the shorthand synopsis would be that a man who cannot form new memories is trying to discover and kill the man who was responsible for murdering his wife and giving him his condition. In order to mimic that condition, the film-maker presents the story in reverse, with the apparent end of the story at the beginning then works his way backwards, still somehow retaining all of the usual rules of storytelling and tropes of the neo-noir genre, with a revelatory scene at the end that explains everything that just happened.

In this version, after the end credits roll up the screen backwards, all of the black and white moments that litter the original cut providing a breather from the main story and signaling when Leonard lost his memory, are necessarily dropped in at the front, meaning that the sad tale of Sammy Jenkis, a man who apparently had a similar illness, is narrated altogether, broken only by the drawing of a tattoo. This gives the reveal that he shouldn't take any calls an even greater significance since it hasn't really been explained to us exactly who he's been talking to on that phone.

Such incidents which were of less importance in the theatrical version litter the film - the first colour moments occur when he's remembering his wife and the swapping of the hotel rooms and the fact that he never seems to sleep in the same bed twice becomes clearer. The overall effect is to underline the manipulation that Leonard actually experiences day-to-day, because of his condition from the hotel clerk, Teddy and particularly Natalie who quickly realizes the nature of his condition, that he isn't aware of what he's done and uses him for her own ends. Both she and Teddy are liars, and it's painful to notice that for all Lenny's insistence that he needs to look into people's eyes so that he can tell if people are being sincere, it simply doesn't work.

But despite his deceptions Teddy becomes rather a tragic figure in this direction as the film works towards his inevitable death, which is still signposted for various reasons in the opening moments. He is probably the best friend Lenny has, since, when he pops into a situation he generally doesn't give an indication that the amnesiac is missing anything important, that he hasn't done anything wrong, which is one of his primary fears. Indeed, e's usually nudging him to leave his quest either through hinting or suggestion. His only mistake is to have some fun at Lenny's expense and it's that which probably causes his death in the end (which in case you're wondering doesn't give anything away since it happens at the beginning of the 'real' version).

I've tried not to give away spoilers for either version but I wonder what someone would make of Memento if the only version they've seen is The Beginning of the End. Rather like someone's who's watching the Star Wars for the first time starting with the prequels -- only they could decide whether the release of exposition in a different order actually works. For the rest of us this is a good version of a great film that deepens our appreciation of director Christopher Nolan's achievement. It's available on different special editions of the dvd; in the uk that means the one with 3 discs that's perennially in the sale at HMV. Go to the second disc, push down until the thin blue line intersects 'biographies', push right so that the line drops to the bottom of the screen and press play ...

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