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The primary focus of cinematic theories is on how perspective and subjectivity are created in films, or more specifically, how audience interactions with characters help viewers comprehend the narrative consequences of the films. The aesthetic effects and the narrative element are two of a film's primary purposes. To fully comprehend these consequences, shape and substance are essential. To get the intended overall effects for their films, the filmmakers employ a range of strategies. These include the mise-en-scene techniques, editing, the organization of space within the film and the sounds effects among other techniques (Gibbs 77). An effective combination of these techniques enhances the efficiency and effectiveness of films communication and presentation of form and content to achieve the desired narrative and aesthetic roles. This paper analyses the film Memento the cinematic techniques used in the film Memento to understand how they are used to develop cohesiveness in the content and form and thus help to achieve the narrative and aesthetic functions of the film.
The film, Memento is an American psychological thriller released in 2001. The film is written and directed by Christopher Nolan. It was produced by Jennifer Todd and Suzanne. The film describes a man (Leonard Shelby) who suffers from amnesia (memory loss) as a result of past trauma. As a result, Leonard suffers memory lapses which occur after every five minutes, and he is unable to form new memories. Despite experiencing regular definite memory losses, Pearce is involved in a search for the people to attacked him sometime earlier (certainly the people who inflicted the trauma and memory loss) and killed his wife in the process.
Regarding cinematic, the concept of mise-en-scene is a general term used to describe all elements of a film that the audients can see in front of them and how these elements are arranged together to create the overall impact (Gibbs77). These elements include the choices for costumes, space, acting, decoration, camera techniques, etc. The techniques are used in different ways in different films with an aim to produce an aesthetic component of the film as well as develop the content of the film. The manner in which the mise-en-scene elements are used in a film is essential in developing the desired mood for the film, interpreting the visual aspects as well as provide the aesthetic appeals of the whole film. Although Nolan uses a lot of mise-en-sequence elements to display the significance of various contents of the film, only a few significant ones will be analyzed in this paper.
Christopher Nolan presented Memento in two different sequences describing the scenes which are interspersed during the film. These include the presentation in a series of black and white to show the chronology of the events and a series of coloured sequences with an aim to show the reverse order of the events. The later techniques help to simulate the mental state of the protagonist to the audience. In the end, the two sequences meet to form a complete, cohesive and comprehensive presentation of the narrative and form perspectives of the entire creation.
Evidently, Nolan has utilized the mise-en-scenes in the most powerful way to communicate the content and form of the film in the most significant and artistic manner. Correct organization of the mise-en-scenes elements helps to display the films in various perspectives; themselves helping to narrate the story in a non-verbal manner. Characteristically, Nolan uses different elements of mise-en-scene throughout the film as a means to communicate different aspects of the narrative in an artistic manner. Based on the analysis of the film, Memento, we can conclude that the mise-en-scene elements (some of which have been discussed under) have been used particularly to create the effects of thrill amid horror and suspense. In artistic works such as the film, Memento, the inner meanings of the events and content are often communicated by the creation of tensions between the director's personality and the film narration.
Used in a complete and complementary manner as is in the film, Memento, the mise-en-scene elements achieves great significance in enhancing understandability of the film. In Memento, a combination of relevant and related mise-en-scenes elements have been utilized to bring out the inner meanings of the story line. For instance, a combination of low-key lighting, and low-pitched sounds have occasionally been used in instances where extreme close-up camera techniques are utilized mainly to create the emotions of sadness, anticipation, intrigue, horror and other related negative emotions throughout the narration. Contrastively, high-key lighting has been used alongside high-pitched sounds in instances where full shots are provided with an aim, mainly to provide details and lay significant emphasis on the events taking place in certain specific scenes.
Throughout the film, Nolan uses non-linear narration technique in his editing, mainly to show the contrasts and inner struggle going on in the mind of Leonard. A lot of concentration has been focused on Leonard and the events surrounding his life. This is significant for this analysis since all events displayed in the film revolves largely around the character, Leonard. In a lot of the instances, the sequences are often shown in reverse, mainly to give further details to the audience about the events which resulted in the current events witnessed in various scenes. Nolan utilizes this technique in various instances of the film. For instance, towards the end of the opening sequence, the audience is taken back to the former state of the character who has been shot, mainly to emphasize the events which happened before and which led to the shooting.
The black-and-white chronology employed in editing the film answers the questions concerning the events which have happened and what led to the current events. For instance, the director of the film used the image of a photograph which reminds Leonard not to trust Teddy. Here, the reverse sequence used in the narration shows Leonard thinking backward to the current event and answers some of the audience' questions. The slow-paced editing used at the scene where Leonard strangles Jimmy shows the calmness in him when he commits the killing. Nolan uses this not just to show an inner sense of satisfaction in Leonard but also a fulfillment setting of the events revolving around the entire story. This is a significant turning point in the story and which joins every event to the central theme and the end to the beginning.
Another important element that Nolan has utilized in the film effectively is the sound effect. The choice of sound plays a critical role in enhancing the narrative aspect of the film. In fact, the sound itself offers an insightful narrative component in films which can sometimes be used to communicate a wide variety of emotional and verbal cues in filmmaking. The type of sound, including the pitch, and type of music used in various scenes, all function to develop the correct emotions for the events happening as well as enhance the themes in the events. High-pitched and low-pitched sounds are often used in different ways to signal different emotions depending on the themes that filmmakers want to emphasize.
Characteristically, low-pitched sounds are often characterized with greater anticipation, intrigue, and shock while high-pitched sounds are often used at the points where real confrontational events are displayed. On various scenes, Nolan uses a non-diegetic soundtrack played mainly in the background. In the scene where Leonard swaps clothes with Jimmy, for instance, a slim sound is heard on the background whisper, 'Jimmy,' a slow, quiet sound which varies from a high-pitched to low pitch (as the exchange actions of the scene commences, and the whisper is heard- the sound becomes more low-pitched towards to whisper) is heard played on the background. The protagonist of the film, Leonard Shelby, is presented as a man with regular memory lapses and is unable to recollect the events which have happened in about five minutes span but who is involved in an event which would require recollection of such memories. The random exchange of sound pitches and the music styles depicts the inner struggles and controversies going on in Leonard's mind at various instances; including his ability to recollect the lost memories to inform his future actions.
The music produced from the violin in this scene and the associated sound characteristics makes the audience at this stage to develop the feelings of sorrow and empathy albeit they do not know that is going to happen after the scene. Also, the diegetic sound used towards the end of the beginning sequence, especially when the gunshot occurs, diverts the attention of the audience to recognize that a person has been shot but does not reveal why the person is shot. At this point, Nolan imparts the feelings of shock and intrigue, wondering what has happened exactly and why the character is shot. The element of suspense that is characteristically used in narratives is utilized largely in this film, mainly at points of turnarounds so that the audience would transition to the next scene with greater expectations for more actions. Towards the end of the film, however, the soundtrack becomes louder certainly signaling that the events have reached the end.
In the opening sequence of the film Memento, Nolan uses a lot of close-ups and the extreme close-ups. For instance, the extreme close-ups of the bullets, a pair of glasses and streams of blood running down the wall have been used particularly to show specific details to the audience. Figure 1 below shows the images as used in the film and the associated emotional impacts.
The close-up details provided in this scene are significant in detailing what happens in the entire film. Other than creating the emotions for the film, the objects emphasize the anticipated events which are likely to be witnessed throughout the film.
The use of these extreme close-up objects in the introductory sequence as in the film, Memento, give the audience with in-depth clues about the scene and the events that they should expect throughout the film. However, they do not answer the questions relating to what is just about to happen in the next scene. By using this representation, Nolan succeeds in ticking the audience' imagination and keep their attentions fixed in wanting to know what happens in the next scenes. The audience, therefore, keep asking questions such as: What happened in this scene? What is significant about the objects displayed in this scene? Such questions help the filmmakers to keep the audience transfixed in the film right from the beginning. Many filmmakers use these effects to develop a strong emotional content.
Also, Nolan has used low-key lighting significantly in this film mainly to create the emotions of darkness and dangers associated with the scene. This element is used in the majority of the instances within the film to bring out the same effects. Typically, the low-key lighting creates an atmosphere of danger since the characters displayed in the darkness are perceived to be in greater danger. This is because they cannot see what happens around them correctly.
The film, Memento, is classified under the thriller movies based on the thematic events displayed throughout the storyline. The narrative structure and the genre of the film have been arranged to complement and supplement the understanding about the film in a creative and artistic manner. The thriller aspect of the film is displayed from the opening sequence, especially when the shooting occurs to the end. The shooting events occurring at the beginning, for instance, is tied to the end when Leonard strangles and kills Jimmy. Throughout the length of the story, the narrative keeps creating suspense and flashbacks to keep the audience wanting to see more actions and to bridge the gaps created along the narrative. Through this combination of structural narrative, and the intertwining of the themes created in various scenes all contribute to authenticate the place of the film in its genre classification.
To conclude, the cinematic analyses in the film, Memento, provides an understanding of a creatively and artistically nested film with the concerns of the audience fully reflected in the director's mind and creative abilities. The artistic combination of the mise-en-scene elements has successfully helped in highlighting the primary concerns of the film (themes and the genre classification) by tying all sections and scenes in the film together. It is important for the audience to be able to connect between various events in a film to construct meaning in a coherent and consistent manner. Nolan has developed various scenes of the film, Memento, to complement one another and contribute to the overall understanding of the themes while at the same time deriving the thrill and emotional continence attributed to the film.
Gibbs, John. Mise-en-scène: film style and interpretation. Vol. 10. Wallflower Press, 2002.
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