“Okay, so what am I doing?” Guy Pearce asks himself in Memento, as he’s racing down a street in pursuit of — or possibly pursued by — a deadly assailant. It’s a question Christopher Nolan’s second feature asks itself many times, as the narrative works its way backward from scene to scene. Pearce plays Leonard Shelby, who suffered brain trauma during an attack on his wife and is now incapable of developing new memories. But he won’t let that stop him from pursuing his wife’s murderer.
The innovative structure of Memento works its way backward, so the audience shares Leonard’s ignorance of all the events that propelled him to each fascinating scene, and the cleverness doesn’t stop there. Memento takes what could have been a novel editing gimmick and builds an entire, gripping suspense narrative around the hero’s limited perception, and around his — and the audience’s — eagerness to trust whatever we’re shown. And that makes all of us horrifically easy to trick.