I have a controversial opinion: I am not a fan of Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster films. Are they unique? Yes. Are they interesting? Yes. Are they well acted and shot and edited? Yes. But they are also very long and so complicated that you can’t keep anything straight. It is so clear that the budget was pretty high and so when there was a moment of contemplation as to how to do something, they just decided to pop in some special effects.
But then there are his independent films, particularly Memento. Was it complicated? Yes. Was it confusing? Yes. But it is a great example of how, when you have a limited budget, every decision, every moment captured and kept on film is there for a reason.
When I was in high school and had to study for the dreaded ACTs (or SATs depending on where you were located), I took an extra class that helped you prepare. They had us watch Memento to practice how to keep track of facts that could come up later, sort of like when you study and they might come up on the exam.
The film, in case you’ve never seen it, is about a man who has short term memory loss and searches to find his wife’s murderer. He tattoos what he has learned on his body to help with his case and to help with his disability. And of course, being a Nolan film, it is not told in chronological order; the timeline is all over the place. Watch this video where the filmmaker tries to explain:
According to IMDb, the budget for Memento was $9 million, which isn’t cheap but it is considered an independent film. Fast-forward to a few years later and the budget for Nolan’s blockbuster, major studio film, Inception was $160 million. Both films made a profit, and both have his unique style and superb actors, but Momento stands out more to me.
While Inception is often regarded as a masterpiece, it was way too long and with way too much going on, what with all the special effects and locations. To me, that took away from the story. There’s a section in Inception where we have to wait for a van to fall off a bridge and I remember watching it in the theater, sitting next to a heavily pregnant woman. The film keeps going between scenes as it cuts to this damn van continuing to fall, agonizingly slow. I turned to her and said, “You could have given birth by now.” She nodded in agreement. We get it, you are running out of time, you all are going to wake up soon, get on with it already!
Disagree with me? Hate me? That’s fine, but the independent film, Memento with a budget 17 times smaller, had no time to waste. You are instantly captured by the film, wondering what is going on, what happened and what is going to happen.
The beauty of independent films is that hard times when there is no money often require you, as a filmmaker, to decide what is really worth having. You are limited, but that can be when true creativity arises and the audience can tell.
I am not saying Nolan is not one of the best filmmaker out there. I am just saying that this small, independent film of his has made a big impact in audiences, the industry and other filmmakers alike. Momento may have had a lot more impact than his big budget films, and that is something to be very proud of.
By Tara Jabbari
DCIFF Filmmaker Relations