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Christopher Nolan's "Memento" - Script Coverage



TITLE: Memento

AUTHOR: Christopher Nolan

FORM: Feature Screenplay

LOCALE: Los Angeles

CIRCA: Modern, Present Day (‘99)

FORMAT: Screenplay

GENRE: Thriller / Mystery / Neo-noir

BUDGET: Small to Medium

DRAFT DATE: 8/10/99

COVERAGE DATE: 4/22/21

PAGES: 156

PREPARED BY: Ioana Ionascu

 

LOGLINE


After losing his wife and short-term memory in a break-in, Lenny tries his hardest to catch the guy, but it’s hard when you are only surrounded by liars.



SUMMARY


LEONARD suffers from short-term memory loss, a condition that appeared after the rape and murder of his wife. He’s intent on killing the man “John G.,” who he thinks is his wife’s killer.


Leonard checks the Polaroid he has of TEDDY, a man he believes is his guy, and on the photo is the tag “Don’t believe his lies”. He later takes TEDDY to an abandoned building and shoots him in the head.


The story, then, proceeds in reverse chronological order, alternating between two timelines signaled by colored and black & white scenes. The colored scenes move back in time, while the black & white move forward in time.


In the colored timeline, Leonard is at NATALIE’s, a bartender he’s helping get away from her lunatic ex-boyfriend who thinks she stole money from him. She lets Leonard stay the night, while she’s providing him with information about John G.: apparently, Teddy is him.


In the black & white timeline, Leonard is in a motel room talking on the phone with an unknown caller. He has tattoos all over his body, all facts about the man he’s after. On the phone, he talks about his past as an insurance investigator, about the time he had a case with an anterograde amnesiac named SAMMY JANKIS.


At that time, Leonard investigated Sammy’s case and dismissed the claim believing he was lying about his condition. Sammy’s wife became so upset that Sammy would lie to her that she tricked him into giving her multiple insulin shots in the hopes that he would actually remember. He didn’t and she died.


Back in the colored timeline, each scene shows how both Natalie and Teddy have manipulated Leonard into doing their bidding, but the reason is still unknown on both sides.


At this point, the black & white storyline reveals that the person Leonard was talking to on the phone was Teddy, who feeds Leonard information about people whose initials are “J. G.” so he would kill them. One of these people is a drug dealer named JIMMY GRANTZ, Natalie’s boyfriend.


After Leonard kills Jimmy, the black & white timeline merges with the colored one, and the story reaches the point where it precedes the beginning of the film.


Teddy arrives at the abandoned building and Leonard, confused, demands the truth. Teddy tells him that he killed his wife’s killer over a year ago, but it didn’t help with his memory problem. Furthermore, since Teddy knows Leonard won’t remember the conversation, he reveals that he used Leonard for his own benefit and that the story about Sammy Jankis is, in fact, a story about him: his wife survived the attack and Leonard killed her with multiple insulin shots.


Leonard refuses to believe anything Teddy says and, enraged that he was used to kill people, he makes a note on the Polaroid he has of Teddy that he is not to be trusted. Then he takes an even more radical decision and writes down Teddy’s license plate to get it tattooed so that his future (unknowing) self will think Teddy is his wife’s killer. He drives off, soon to kill Teddy as in the beginning of the film.



COMMENTS


OVERALL

The story is well-crafted and motivates the unique portrayal of jumping in time. The script has a good sense of pacing and style, but it lacks some emotional depth with the main character. Still, it more than overcompensates with the plot, dialogue, and structure that make it unforgettable.



CHARACTER


Each character is a little underdeveloped, with no emotional connection to be created. They each do their part in the plot, they each have motivations and desires, but they also feel bland, appearing as marionettes. Leonard’s case is the worst since he is the main character. I won’t say that it’s a deterrent from the script’s plot or unique style, as it might also be motivated by both of those aspects, but I will say that the characters don’t have the opportunity of viewer-to-character connection.



PLOT


It unfolds nicely, with each aspect of it motivated and accounted for. The progression of it (chronologically speaking) is understandable, and it produces many occasions of conflict between the characters. The props (i.e. Polaroids and tattoos) are used only as temporal markers and tension tools, and they help the climax of the movie’s reveal. The transitions between the two timelines are also comprehensible, especially with the colored sequences as they have matching shots in between them so the reversed progression of events is visually marked and easily identifiable with the coherent whole.



STRUCTURE


This is the most unique aspect of the script. It has two timelines, underlined by the switch in scene color, which, in the end, form a coherent temporal unit. The structure acts as Leonard’s condition and portrays the hardships of placing information in the right order, if someone could even remember it all in the first place. As it stands, it adds much to the delight of the script.


PACING – it is a constant back and forth as the story alternates between the two timelines, but this helps the development of the mystery. The switch enhances the suspense of action scenes (e.g. the chase scene) and revelatory scenes (e.g. Natalie’s manipulations), each colored scene made up to follow a short’s crescendo of tension (starts with some tension and ends with a climax). The black & white ones are more mellow and slow in pacing, but they, too, crescendo as a coherent unit with the last scene of the script.



DIALOGUE

The characters provide useful information without long monologues or exposition. The dialogue is on point with the plot’s beats and it never becomes tiring or unnecessary. Everything is natural and adequate to the script’s genres and tension progression.



SETTING


It mostly revolves around the derelict building, the motel, and Natalie’s place, while also figuring other small locations as backdrop for some scenes (e.g. the tattoo shop). Not many locations are used.



CONCLUSION


The script is well structured and written, with the story motivating the unique twist on the ‘time-travel’ puzzle. It has a good build-up of tension and suspense, the mystery unfolds seamlessly, and the dialogue and scene transitions between each timeline give enough information to facilitate the comprehension of the overall story. It is a fantastically crafted script that uses all the genres and story elements to the best of its capabilities.




RATINGS GRID:


Excellent Very Good Good Fair Needs Work Artistic X Commercial X

Premise X Story X Main Characters X Minor Characters X Dialogue X


Structure X Visual Elements X


Writing X Title X

SCRIPT: RECOMMENDED

WRITER:CONSIDER



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