As far as Leonard Shelby knows, unknown attackers murdered his wife and annihilated his self, traumatizing his brain such that he can’t form new memories. Scarred face shining under peroxided hair, gaunt body tattooed with the data of his revenge quest, Leonard is a ronin who hasn’t the perspective to consider that he’s locked in a kaleidoscopic Rashomon. To put it otherwise — switching from the pomo-samurai stylings of Memento’s tone to the blank California of its setting — Leonard’s trapped in a James M. Cain universe where, though the postman always rings twice, he can only hear one ding.
Writer-director Christopher Nolan tells this neuro-noir in reverse, opening with Leonard (Guy Pearce) offing the perceived perp, shuffling through overlapping flashbacks, and closing with a resolution that denies a solution and strong-arms the viewer into punching rewind. Its whodunit? subordinated to a metaphysical whydoit? and attended by an anxious wha…?, Memento is a poem of despair declaring the past is as unknowable as the future and the present is little more than a hunch.