Forget Me Not / Movies and memory.

Few themes in the Bible are as persistent as the call to remember: whether it is God commanding the Israelites never to forget how he brought them out of Egypt, or Jesus telling his followers to eat his body and drink his blood in remembrance of him, or the thief on the cross asking Christ to remember him when he comes into his kingdom, the role that memory plays in shaping our identities and in binding us to each other and to God is integral to the faith.

Memory has also become an increasingly prominent theme at the movies, going back a few years to Memento, an ingenious film noir about a man who has been unable to create new memories ever since he was knocked head-first into a mirror while trying to protect his now-dead wife from a rapist who broke into their house. Despite his condition, Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) is determined to hunt the murderer down and kill him, so he surrounds himself with notes and Polaroid photos, and he tattoos the most important clues to his very skin. These notes, he says, are more objective, more true, than mere recollection, which can be unreliable.

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Review: Insomnia (dir. Christopher Nolan, 2002)

Memento, a smart, stylish neo-noir about a vengeful widower with memory problems that told its story backwards, proved director Christopher Nolan could work wonders with an original idea and a decent gimmick. Now Insomnia, a fairly straightforward and much more linear remake of a recent Norwegian thriller, shows Nolan can be just as compelling when he’s reworking more conventional material. This film marks one of those rare moments when a European story works fairly well in the hands of an American cast; perhaps the fact that Nolan is British helped.

The main character in both films is a cop who travels north of the Arctic Circle during the summer, when the sun never sets, to investigate a murder. There, he does something, quite by accident, that he is desperate to cover up; and thanks to the harsh, unforgiving light that never stops pouring in through his hotel room window, despite his best efforts to block it out, he is sleepless with guilt. The hallucinations he begins to have, in his sleep-deprived state, don’t help either.

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Review: Memento (dir. Christopher Nolan, 2000)

Memento is a gimmicky movie, but in the best possible sense of the word.

The film begins with a shot of a hand holding a Polaroid; in the picture, and behind it, we see what looks like a dead body, lying against a blood-splattered wall. Then the hand shakes the picture, and we realize the image is fading to white — time is going backwards. Then, sure enough, the blank Polaroid is sucked back into a camera, the blood runs back towards the body from which it came, a gun jumps off the ground into the photographer’s hand, and the body springs to life, the victim having just enough time to shout something before the scene comes to an abrupt end.

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