Guy, Hidden Memory
Spoilers for Memento follow, though none for Crouching
Tiger, Hidden Dragon. If you haven't seen Memento but intend
to, you don't want to read this yet. You have been warned. Don't
come crying to me that I "ruined" the movie for you
because I'll just give you an "F" for "Fool!"
-- the Perfesser
I made the claim last time of being an arts and entertainment
expert, I've heard tell that there are some doubters among you.
Normally, I would not deign to give such slanderous accusations
as have been hurled at my Ivory
Tower any credence by responding to them, but after a little
visit from my dearest Ms. Blunt herself, I have been, uh, persuaded,
as she so eloquently requested, to "put up or shut up."
So for your edification, I present a brief treatise of two of
my favorite films of late, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
(henceforth referred to as CTHD) and Memento:
multiple Academy Award-winning CTHD confounded box-office expectations
by becoming one of the first subtitled movies to make serious
in-roads into the American consciousness. As we well know from
numerous pundits in the academic field, Americans, as a general
rule, do not like to read their movies. Shades of Hades, they
don't much like to read at all!
comes CTHD to prove the pundits wrong (Note to self: Cross "Americans
don't like subtitled movies because they are loathe to read"
off list of Dearly-Held Theories. Curse and mutter under breath
while doing so). Imagine my happy surprise to read (ha!) that
the genesis of CTHD is from a genre of Chinese fantasy-based
literature called wuxia (woo-shyah), which has been translated
to film, wuxia pien ("woo-shyah p'yan"). And
wuxia pien translates as "martial arts movie"
(or simply, "action movie"). A native Chinese speaker
provided the pronunciations and translations, by the way.
CTHD is not what most Americans would consider a martial arts
movie. For one thing, the Wuxia are legendary knights from Confucius'
time who can fly, among other attributes. For another thing,
a great portion of the movie has sensibilities about love that
are more in line with Victorian England than ancient China (or
so the film's critics allege). The martial arts in the film,
while dazzling, are not the main focus as they are in say, films
starring Jackie Chan or Jet Li--not that there's anything wrong
with those fine butt-kickin' gentlemen
scenes of qing gong ("ching gon," flying) seem to
have caused the most confusion for some American audiences.
That's because some Americans are unfamiliar with wire martial
arts, despite the fact that wire martial arts have appeared
in Chinese films for decades. Yes, DECADES. That means, before
The Matrix came out, dears. I was about ready to spank the insolent
teens behind me who kept giggling whenever the warriors made
those fabulous leaps and fought in the trees. Get some culture,
you godless heathens!
of gods: Chow Yun-Fat's name is pronounced "Choe Yune Fah,"
not "Chow Yuhn Fat." Remember that the next time you
address the god made flesh when you accost him on the red carpet,
Ms. Joan "My Face is Tighter than Stewart Copeland's Drums"
Rivers! Damn harpy!
Anyway, onward to Memento, based on a short story by
writer/director Christopher Nolan's brother, Jonathan Nolan,
called Memento Mori. The original story follows Earl--re-christened
Leonard Shelby in the movie--whose wife has been raped and murdered;
he himself was grievously injured in the same attack, causing
a rare memory condition--he can form no new memories. The subtle
movement of the story is as disorienting as Earl's illness,
and you will find yourself constantly flipping back a few pages
to make sure you didn't miss something (just what color are
those damn tiles?). Mr. J. Nolan is an ingenious bast--er, talent.
is his brother, Mr. C. Nolan, who tells Leonard's story in reverse,
causing the viewer to experience the same sort of mistrust in
memory as Leonard (Give Guy Pearce an Oscar!) does. The disorientation
is deliberate and effective, though I'm still not sure if Natalie's
morphing hair in the extended restaurant scene is deliberate
deception intended to disrupt memory or piss-poor continuity.
And yes (Give Guy Pearce an Oscar!), I briefly considered writing
my own column in reverse, but then I decided the hassle of picking
up more rocks and broken glass wasn't worth it, and anyway,
I'm out of boiling oil. You can safely assume that I am that
of clever (Give Guy Pearce an Oscar!), flashes of what may be
Leonard's true memories are so quickly inserted into the movie
as to make you doubt you even saw them--besides which, thanks
to the reverse nature of the narrative, you'll probably forget
you saw them anyway. For example, we see Sammy Jankis sitting
in the asylum; someone walks in front of him and suddenly, there's
Leonard, sitting there, looking perplexed. During one of the
black-and-white scenes of Leonard (Give Guy Pearce an Oscar!)
explaining Jankis's story--black and white seemingly functioning
as code that the film is telling us The Truth--we see what we
assume are Sammy's hands tapping the needle prior to giving
his wife her insulin injection.
Except, the tapping scene is in color, which we have been conditioned
to accept as one of Leonard's memories, much like Leonard uses
his notes and tattoos to condition his own memory so he can
what IS the truth (Give Guy Pearce an Oscar!) of this film?
Exactly what the hell happened to Leonard and his wife?. In
Leonard's new-memory deprived life, sense memories last longer
than rational memories. Sometimes, Leonard
(Give Guy Pearce an Oscar!) says, you feel guilty or angry and
you don't know why because you can't remember what happened
to cause the feeling. Oddly enough, Leonard's memory proves
elastic--sometimes he forgets things within
minutes, and sometimes, he can hang on to the new memories significantly
longer. Which leads to a whopper (Give Guy Pearce an Oscar!)
of a question: Does Leonard really have this rare condition,
or is his predicament psychosomatic? Did his wife really die
right after the rape, or is Sammy's story really Leonard's,
meaning Leonard accidentally killed his wife by sending her
into a diabetic coma?
what about all those tattoos (Give Guy Pearce an Oscar!) littering
Leonard's buff body? If "Memory is treachery" and
imperfect as Leonard repeatedly says, can he even trust the
memories he has from BEFORE his injury? What if he has changed
them the same way a "normal" person can alter
a detail of memory to suit his/her own guilty conscience? And
since Leonard has tattooed (Give Guy Pearce an Oscar!) the "real"
killer's license plate on his leg, can he finally be at peace
after blowing said "real" killer away, or will he
be forever searching since he won't remember he's already exacted
his revenge? Just how many "real" killers has Leonard
what was the question again? I have this condition, you see
is a mindjob of a movie that you will want to see more than
once as you try to work out the story in forward chronological
time. Mr. J. Nolan's story was printed in the March issue of
Esquire magazine, for those who missed it. Also, check out www.otnemem.com,
where you can read a newspaper clipping detailing how the cops
found asylum-escapee Leonard's notes and pictures. There are
also more notes Leonard has written to himself, as well as police
documents about his wife's rape, pictures Leonard has taken
as memory aids, etc. Then gosee the movie again because
by the time you sift through all the extra information, you'll
have forgotten where the corresponding details took place in
the film. A movie that requires multiple viewings--ah, the most
ingenious bastardliness of them all! Oh, and in case I
forgot: GIVE GUY PEARCE AN OSCAR!
the next time one of you hooligans breaks a window in my Ivory
Tower with your rock-mail, I remain
Email The Perfesser
with your comments
Hey, Perfesser, couldn't we just tattoo an Oscar on Guy's
buff little Australian Angus steer body? It would be a way more