Memento tells the story of Leonard who is on a mission to find his wife's killer, even though he suffers from short-term memory loss. The only way he can progress is by tattooing the clues and information he needs on his body.
Based upon the short story 'Memento Mori' by Jonathan Nolan - the brother of director Christopher Nolan.
Memento is told in two different types of scenes, black-and-white and color. The black-and-white scenes are interspersed with color scenes. The color scenes are in backwards order, beginning with Leonard Shelbyshooting Teddy Gammell ( Joe Pantoliano) in the head. The scene is in reverse, beginning with Leonard holding a Polaroid of Teddy's dead body, an ending with Teddy getting shot. Next, Leonard Shelby begins his discussion with an unknown man on the phone in his hotel room. This scene, and all others like it, are in black-and-white. In the black-and-white scenes, Leonard tells the unidentified caller the story of Sammy Jankis ( Stephen Tobolowsky.) Sammy was Leonard's first case as an insurance investigator. After a car crash, Sammy lost his ability to make new memories, the same condition Leonard has. Leonard says that Sammy killed his wife by insulin overdose because he couldn't remember he just gave her a shot. As described by himself several times, Leonard has Anterograde amnesia, a condition he got from getting attacked by two men who killed and raped his wife. Leonard killed one of them, but is still looking for one of them. Because of his condition, Leonard can't make new memories, but he remembers everything before the attack. So, in order to remember key parts of information regarding finding his wife's murderer, he makes himself notes and tattoos. Along with Teddy, Leonard stays in contact with Natalie ( Carrie Anne-Moss.) Leonard claims that Natalie will help him, and to not trust Teddy. He remembers these things by writing them on Polaroids of the people. Aided by Natalie, Leonard narrows his search down to a "John G," along with a few other facts. In exchange for this information, Natalie uses Leonard and his condition for her advantage.
The ending begins with a final black-and-white sequence. Leonard hangs up his phone, realizing he doesn't know who it is, and meets Teddy outside his motel. Teddy tells Leonard where he can find the "John G" he's been looking for. Leonard strangles him and takes his expensive suit and car. While dragging him, John G, or Jimmy, says "Sammy." This makes Leonard doubt that he is the real killer and tells Teddy about it. Teddy admits that Jimmy wasn't the real "John G," that in fact they killed the real "John G." Leonard was deliberately making an unsolvable puzzle for himself, by taking out pages of the police report. He also confused aspects of his own life, in the story of Sammy Jankis. Sammy was a con-artist who had no wife, it was Leonard who killed his wife with insulin overdose. Leonard exits the building he killed Jimmy in, and throws Teddy's keys in a bush. while Teddy is looking for his keys, Leonard burns the photograph of Jimmy's body and writes Teddy's license plate. Leonard goes to the tattoo parlor to get a tattoo of Teddy's license plate.
During a road-trip to the West Coast, Jonathan Nolan pitched the idea of the film to his brother, Christopher. A few months later, Christopher came up with an idea to show the film backwards. That started the story creation process, with Christopher writing the screenplay and Jonathan writing the short story Memento Mori. In July 1997, the script was shown to Newmarket Films, and was given a budget of $4.5 million. After the casting of Guy Pearce, Carrie Anne-Moss, and Joe Pantoliano, the 25 day shoot began on September 7, 1999, and finished on October 8. The synthesized score of the film was composed by David Julyan, who took influences form the scores of such films and Blade Runner, and The Thin Red Line.
Critics met the film with great praise, with many citing the unique style of story telling and Guy Pearce's performance as it's strengths.Medical experts also praised the film's depiction of anterograde amnesia. However, some critics thought that the premise was rather gimmicky, and that the plot was occasionally hard to follow.