Sunday, Jan. 21, 2001
Sundance 2001 Coverage
Sundance Glance: festival overview
9 Capsules: Sundance 2001 capsule reviews
Kim Ki-Duk and Jung Suh: an interview with the director and leading lady of the Korean film The Isle
Christopher Nolan: an interview with the promising director of Memento
Ozzy Osbourne: an interview with the lead singer for Black Sabbath
Penelope Spheeris: an interview with the versatile director of We Sold Our Souls for Rock 'n Roll
Christopher Nolan’s previous film was the black-and-white feature debut of The Following. Barely over an hour long, the film received good critical reviews but was hardly seen. Now comes his second feature, Memento, an incredible work that stars Guy Pearce as Leonard Shelby, a man obsessed with finding the killer of his wife. The catch is that Leonard has no short-term memory since the incident with his wife and, since the film is anchored from his perspective, the audience gets the full subjective rush of a mystery that is unraveled chunk by chunk and, to top things off, backwards.
PK: Your film just had its biggest public screening here at Sundance in a theater that holds 1,270 seats. How’d it go over with the crowd?
CN: It went incredibly well. It was nine o’clock in the morning, so I wasn’t expecting it to be full - and it was really very full, there were people up in the balcony and it was a very responsive audience.
PK: Memento touches on a lot of issues. Power, vulnerability, manipulation, time, identity, revenge, obsession - to name a few. As you and your brother put together the story for this, what were the predominant themes you wanted to explore and why?
CN: Memento’s very concerned with subjective perceptions of the world versus the concept of objective truth, and I think the film winds up denying the audience the concept of an objective truth in the world of the film – which people find quite unsettling. People look to films for a simpler universe in terms of right and wrong, the “why’s” and the “wherefores,” and they look to the filmmaker for the objective truth that they don’t get in real life. Memento, however, is very much about being stuck between a point of view and the notion of an objective truth, and then stepping outside ourselves.
PK: I program an independent theater in Boulder. This summer I was going to show a block of films that are anachronistic and can’t get pegged to a specific time frame. Films like Brazil, Blue Velvet, and Seconds. How would you feel if your film were included in such a program - does it fit?
CN: I think it would fit perfectly, but in a different way. I’m a huge fan of Seconds, for example, and I’d be very excited to be screened anywhere near that film, but to me an anachronistic film is most interesting when you can’t pin down why it has that feeling. Certainly what we’re trying to do with Memento is to give you the subjective experience of someone who doesn’t know how long it’s been since they’ve suffered this “thing” (anterograde memory-loss, or the inability to form any new memories). They can’t reconcile a defining period between a past self and present self. So it’s anachronistic in an odd way. It’s not something people comment on much, people seem a lot more aware of the geographical ambiguity or anonymity of the piece.
PK: The film definitely capitalizes on the use of generic, “anywhere in the USA” streets composed of parking lots, Holiday Inns, etc... Anyone who’s ever felt disoriented standing out on a street where chain store logos are branded on a string of billboards that clutter a smoggy horizon, such that you could be in L.A., or Denver, or any other city, would certainly get the idea. Did you at any time look for inspirations in the noir genre?
CN: One thing I was very conscious of in the feel of the film is to not make a “neo-noir.” To not appropriate the look which is so tinged with nostalgia, with expressionistic lighting, or set design and location that it romanticize a sense of the past. I tried to come up with a modern equivalent. Look at Jim Thompson’s writing... very banal settings, the everyday world, the suburban, mid-sized towns. There’s nothing remotely glamorous about the whole thing that informs the characters very much. I strongly wanted to do that with this film. Geographical anonymity seemed really important to this story.
PK: Do you have full control over the website (www.otnemem.com) currently giving out clues to your film?
CN: Yes, because my brother is the guy who designed and built the site himself. We figured it out together, what we wanted it to be. So we’re pretty careful about what goes in there. The idea of the website was not to restrict it to the world of the film but to extrapolate from it backwards and to include suggestions of the back-story to how our character got to where he is.
PK: Who’s distributing your film? Will it be released wide (thousands of prints), in limited markets (released only in key big cities), or will it be platformed (with prints being made in relation to good word-of-mouth)?
CN: It’ll be platform released by New Market Films in key markets, to see how it does, before hopefully going wider.
PK: The film is based on the short story by your brother, Jonathan Nolan. Where can people pick that up?
CN: It’s being published by Esquire in March.
PK: Having seen the film, I’d like to now ask you to answer some questions about the ending.
CN: You’ll have to turn off the tape recorder first.