BEWARE! SPOILERS! (for films Memento and The Machinist)
I was underwhelmed, however, and I felt that that was purely down to the fact that the narrative of the film was in reverse; we see it all in reverse order. The first scene that we see is the last chronological scene in the story, and at the end of each scene we see, we see the start of the previous scene we saw. All quite complicated but if you have seen the film then you'll understand what I have tried (miserably) to describe.
Within the first few minutes of the film, I had no idea what was going on. But by the third scene it finally hit me that the plot was being shown from the end to the beginning. Once I had realised this I was initially transfixed with this idea. I thought wow, this'll be interesting; I've never seen a film like this before. And even though I never quite got used to seeing the beginnings of a scene after I had seen the scene, the film honestly had my full attention.
Christopher Nolan is a good director and he clearly felt that he was onto something new and fresh here, and he's right - what better way to make a film about a man with short-term memory loss than show the plot reverse so that we have no memory. We are as much in the dark as our protagonist - almost. But for me it didn't work at all. The plot never progressed. There are other ways to show how a story ended - through flashback is usually the most common way of doing so. But a reverse narrative is a somewhat boring alternative.
The only time that I felt it really worked was in the scene where Leonard is in Natalie's (Carrie-Anne Moss) house, and she fails to convince him to kill a man called Dodd. He refuses outright, and they both argue about his condition and his dead wife. Natalie calls him names and insults his wife, meanwhile Leonard is scrambling round the room for a pen so that he can write on his polaroid photograph of Natalie that she hates him and not to trust her. He strikes her across the face (giving her a cut and swollen lip) and continues to search for a pen. Natalie knows that unless he finds a pen and writes that down, he'll forget about the argument in a minute, and be none the wiser of her untrustworthiness. Angry at his violence towards her and aware of her ability to manipulate him to do what she wants, she walks out of the house and sits in her car - staring at him through the window. He still scrambles but fails to find a pen. A few seconds pass, she gets out of the car again and enters the house. By now he has forgotten everything that just happened between them. He sees the cut on her face that he just made when he struck her and asks who did that to her? She tells him that Dodd beat her. Leonard replies that he himself will take care of him. Natalie's plan has worked and now she has gotten revenge on Leonard for his anger and violence by manipulating his condition - she didn't even need to convince him to kill Dodd anymore. She's gotten exactly what she wants. This for me is the only part of the film that works with the reverse narrative. It is sad and cruel how Natalie manipulates his condition, and seeing the seconds tick passed as he tries to look for a pen beore he forgets, is quite tense.
If there are other films that are better but have still used the reverse narrative - please let me know. Maybe the plot of this film was just boring, and therefore made the narrative device not work, or vice versa. All that I can say about this film is that it's not as clever as it thinks it is, nor as everybody else seems to think it is. What started as an interesting idea, ran out of steam quickly, and made the final half of the film insignificant and dull. This could all be just personal preference, however, and maybe this film works for others better than it did for myself.
Rating: 5/10 - worth a watch but only to see a film shown with a reverse narrative, enjoyable or not.