Sunday, 23 January 2011

How is Suspense Created in ‘Memento’?

‘Memento’ is a psychological thriller written and directed by Christopher Nolan (who also directed ‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘Inception’). It stars Guy Pearce as a man named Leonard who has some form of amnesia, which leaves him with no short-term memory. This means that he can remember things like his identity and everything he knew before the amnesia began, but now he forgets things shortly after they happen. The film creates suspense with its use of editing, and the way the two narratives are told. The first narrative is shown in black and white, and features Leonard alone in a motel room talking to an anonymous caller on the phone, and is in chronological order. 
The second narrative is shown in colour, and shows Leonard conducting his investigation into the murder of his wife. It is told in reverse chronological order, which means that the audience are unaware of the previous events as each sequence begins, allowing them to feel the same confusion that Leonard does due to his memory loss.

The title sequence at the beginning of the film starts with a close up of a hand holding a Polaroid picture, shaking it every 10 or 20 seconds, while the titles showing the names of the film, directors, producers, and actors fade in and out in a blue font. We then see a man putting the picture into a camera, and then taking a picture, and realise that the sequence is being played backwards. This is followed by close up shots of a bullet on the floor, a pair of glasses, and blood running up a wall. A gun then flies into the man’s hand, and the body on the floor rises and comes back to life, as the sound of a gunshot is heard backwards. As this is such a violent opening, the audience is both shocked and confused, and left trying to figure out why this person was murdered, and why it was shown backwards. This sense of confusion and tension continues right until the end of the film, when the audience realize that the beginning scene is also the end of the film, after seeing all the events leading up to it.

The film also uses the combination of music and Leonard’s voice (talking to himself) to create suspense. In the scene where he discovers that ‘Teddy’ is in fact John Edward Gammell (the man he believes killed his wife), Leonard is shown sitting in his motel room, and undressing. As he takes his shirt off, he notices his tattoos, which cover a large part of his body, which he has forgotten about due to his amnesia. Soft, orchestral music with a discordant melody plays in the background, as we see close ups of some of the many tattoos on Leonard’s body. The editing pace is slow, with most shots lasting around 5-10 seconds, but some shots (such as when Leonard looks in the mirror at the tattoo on his chest) last for 20-30 seconds, slowly building up tension.

There are no real shocks in Memento (other than the murder at the beginning), instead the film uses the prolonged sense of tension and confusion until the resolution at the end to create suspense.

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