Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
barbie and oppenheimer
barbie and oppenheimer
Warner Bros. / Universal Pictures
Culture > Entertainment

In honor Of The Upcoming ‘Oppenheimer’ Oscars Sweep, Let’s Look Back At One of Christopher Nolan’s Most “Unforgettable” Films

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UVA chapter.

Upon rewatching Christopher Nolan’s 2000 classic Memento, it is clear that the British-American director appeared fully-formed as a young auteur in the Hollywood industry with the release of his first major motion picture. Written by Nolan and his brother after a cross-country road trip to Los Angeles, the neo-noir psychological thriller film showcases many of Nolan’s trademark stylistic choices as a director— a subtle yet biting score, a “mysterious brunette” female archetype (which would later be recycled in his future blockbusters The Dark Knight and Inception), and a convoluted plot. The film’s plot, in fact, is what confounded critics at the time of its release. It is nonlinear, with two different storylines happening at once; the first is told in color scenes. These scenes are occurring in reverse order (backwards), so the end snippet of each scene is actually shown as the beginning of the scene that comes ahead of it. (This way, if you lined them up in sequential order, these color scenes would appear linear.) Simultaneously, these color scenes are interspersed with black-and-white scenes, a separate storyline which is playing out in sequential order. At the end of the film, these two separate storylines intertwine in a moment where a black-and-white frame becomes infused with color, like watercolors painting a sketch.

The mental gymnastics of this film dazzled me the first time I watched it, which was close to four years ago at this point. However, not all moviegoers want to be confounded in this same way, which became evident when I showed this film to my mother last Saturday. She was so confused by the film’s intersecting storylines that I had to draw three separate diagrams on a dry-erase board explaining the mechanics of the plot; how Nolan intentionally developed a non-conventional storyline so that the audience feels the same frustration that Leanord (the protagonist, played by Guy Pearce) feels as he works toward his goal of tracking down his wife’s murderer. Leonard has short-term memory loss, meaning that he is unable to make “new memories,” so his perception of time is splintered in the same way that the movie conveys. While it is totally understandable that the average moviegoer may not be drawn to such a disorienting story, it is important not to underestimate the audience’s intelligence— if a film is good, and has strong characters, the audience will be drawn to it no matter what.

Guy Pearce leads the film in a subtle and compelling performance. He plays the character of Leonard with an unexpected swagger and sometimes heartbreaking line delivery. His emaciated frame, skeletal cheekbones, and piercing blue eyes convey the nihilistic desperation with which he attempts to avenge his wife’s death. At the time of the film’s development, Nolan wanted to cast Brad Pitt in the lead role, but was unable to due to scheduling conflicts. As a result, he tried to make Pearce look as much like Pitt in this film as possible, dying his hair bleach-blonde and spiking it upwards in the same way that Pitt’s hair was styled in the early-2000s. Carrie-Ann Moss, who had impressed Nolan with her performance as trinity in the 1999 science-fiction film The Matrix, gives a chilling portrayal of Natalie, Leonard’s confidant-turned-enemy in the film.

The film itself, while complicated in its plot, deals with quite simple, universal themes: loss of love, delusion versus reality, and man’s search for purpose in life. One could argue that the most poignant moment in the film occurs during a scene in a diner, where Natalie tells Leonard that even if he kills his wife’s murderer, his short-term memory loss will prevent him from remembering the experience. Leonard retorts that it “doesn’t matter” if he remembers it, because it’s his wife who deserves vengeance no matter what. His sole purpose as a man, the only reason he has chosen to stay alive amidst this great tragedy, is to honor the life that his wife lived. Nolan could be arguing, through the use of this interaction, that the most noble decision a person can make is the decision to live for others.       

Leilani Johnson is a a writer at the Her Campus at University of Virginia chapter. She is a transfer student within the university, and is majoring in English with a minor in Drama. At her previous school of attendance, Pace University, Leilani published several original short stories, poems, and paintings for the school's literary arts magazine called CHROMA. She has a passion for makeup and cosmetics, and has worked as a makeup artist at both Sephora and Ulta Beauty. Outside of school, Leilani enjoys watching films in her free time. Some of her favorites are Titanic, Goodfellas, Memento, and When Harry Met Sally. She has a passion for cooking (though she is not very good at it), and has a plethora of food content videos saved on her phone. In the future, she plans to be an actress and a novelist.