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Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2001

Backward and forward

Director Christopher Nolan's "Memento" has turned out to be the runaway indie hit of 2001, so the local press were out in force for his press conference. It's not every day that a talent blindsides viewers with such an accomplished and innovative work. In person, Nolan seemed a bit dry for someone who has made such a brain-boggler of a film, but he was also refreshingly thoughtful and modest in his remarks, quick to credit his writer-brother Jonah with the origin of the film's idea.

On the film's structure:

Christopher Nolan

It occurred to me that the best way to withhold from the audience the knowledge that is withheld from the protagonist [because of his condition] is to basically tell the story backward. That's the reason for the structure of the film, to deny the audience the same information that Leonard is denied because of his inability to make new memories. I wanted to try and give the audience the experience of not being able to remember who this person is who claims to know him, and in that way re-awaken some of the paranoia and uncertainly that the film noir genre used to embody.

On Guy Pearce: Guy Pearce was amazing to work with, and one of the things he brought to the film was his incredibly meticulous approach to characterization, and he works through the script in the most detailed way imaginable. We would spend a lot of time discussing individual words in the screenplay. He became a very effective "logic filter" on the project, because the story is told so much from his [character's] point of view, and he's an actor who is totally unwilling to do something that doesn't make sense to him on set.

On the shooting sequence: Films tend to be shot in very arbitrary and peculiar orders, depending on the availability of locations and actors and all that, and this was no different. Once we had the structure in place on the page, in the script, the production process wasn't really that different from any other film. The only real challenge was keeping in mind the two ways in which the chronology of the film works: The objective chronology, the actual time-line, and then the order in which events are going to appear onscreen.

On his use of set and location:

In terms of the spaces, there are not a lot of establishing shots or long shots, and the reason for that is, try thinking about a person who can't make new memories -- what does that person know about where he is and his physical space? Leonard's world is very small, and it really is bounded by the four walls around him, because he can't remember how he got into the room, and he literally doesn't know what's outside. So the film was shot in a way that tries to put you into that claustrophobic space, a very subjective view of Leonard's experience.

On his background: I started making my own films when I was about 7 years old, with my brother, and I've just always carried on. I've never been to film school, but I've watched a lot of films in my life, and I think that's where I've learned the most about filmmaking.

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