Memento (2000), one of Christopher Nolan’s earlier films, depicts metanarrative through its manipulation of time and memory. Leonard has lost the ability to form any new memories so he must keep track of everything by writing things down. The film is not structured in a linear fashion, so the movie jumps between the past, the present, and different events that have slightly different outcomes. This forces the viewer to keep their own list of facts, so to speak, to conclude what is actually taking place in the movie. Leonard’s true motives and the true motives of those around him are somewhat concealed throughout the movie making the viewer discover the truth at the same time Leonard does. Justin Russell explains in his article, “How Christopher Nolan Exploits Film Structure to Heighten Narrative,” that, “By concealing Leonard’s dubious motivations until the last moments of the film through meticulous editing, we are better able to acknowledge the power of self-construed narrative in his, as well as our own, life and the fundamentally subjective nature of experiencing the outside world, an exterior that we traditionally presume as objective reality. Such thematic implications are made possible through Nolan’s manipulation of nonlinear structure.” Nolan’s nonlinear storyline truly does aid in conveying the narrative of Memento (2000). Having the viewer experience the constant back and forth editing and relearning of all of the same facts of his wife murder as Leonard does, has the audience experience what it must be like to have short term memory loss. By experiencing short term memory loss from an outside perspective, the audience is able to engage on a much deeper level than if the story had not taken use of metanarrative techniques and instead had a linear timeline.
In, “The Grey Area in a Black and White World-Duality in Christopher Nolan’s Films,” by Edwin Tan Leng Phil, it is said, “Nolan’s films have proven that with duality, the world within the film is taken to a whole different level by adding complexities to the characters and twists to the story. Such practices has allowed not only Nolan but other directors to make the plot of their films more engaging, just like authors in the past have done with their novels.” Phil shows in this quote that Nolan’s abilities to correctly use metanarrative to layer storylines and add complex details to the narrative without making it unable to follow does make the story more successful. This technique of manipulating the story to demand more audience participation than typically needed has been used in novels but has been exceptionally done now in film by Nolan.
Click the Polaroid for a look at the Memento (2000) trailer.
While Nolan does use manipulated timelines and complex storylines to aid in the success of his narratives, he also does not conform to traditional narrative structures. Metanarrative works often do not confine themselves to one specific formula. Nolan does a fantastic job of using metanarrative techniques to showcase a nontraditional story. Ryan Scott says in his article, “Christopher Nolan and Complex Narratives,” “Nolan takes these classical narrative structures and remolds them to fit his purpose; creating complex, or as some people call them, puzzle narratives. These films are complex and don’t necessarily fit within the confines of a classical narrative. They experiment with things such as structure, linearity or temporal order.” Scott’s analysis of Nolan’s work is spot on in that Nolan does use metanarrative to his advantage to create films that do not fit into the typical structure of most films. This only helps the success of his work though because audiences are always intrigued by how different and engaging his films are.
““It’s like Waking”: Making Meaning in and of Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000),” an article by Phillip Novak explains how different aspects of Nolan’s films pursue audience engagement and why audiences are so drawn to this kind of film. It has already been proven that Christopher Nolan uses a nonlinear timeline and distorted storyline to help the audience experience Leonard’s plight more deeply in Memento (2000). It is this experience of the search for truth alongside Leonard that makes the audience not only take a deeper look into Leonard and his situation but makes the audience take a deeper look into themselves. Novak says, “In some sense, of course, the sort of critical self-understanding that Memento(2000) activates is always a product of engaged analysis, which is to say only that something like enlightenment is always at issue in the reading of film.” Novak points out that engaged analysis of Memento (2000) is what prompts viewers to then look within. The engagement that is required from this film goes beyond what the film has to offer within Leonard’s world but extends into what it can offer to the viewers world.
Click the Polaroid to see Christopher Nolan himself explain the complexities of Memento (2000).
Memento (2000) uses a multitude of metanarrative techniques to successfully provide a deep and meaningful narrative. Audience engagement in the search for truth alongside Leonard as he attempts to find the man who murdered his wife allows for people to build a deeper connection to the film. When audiences feel deeply engaged with a film and its characters, the film with inherently be more successful.