CLOSE

15 Things You Might Not Know About Memento

Long before the launch of his colossal Batman reboot, or original science fiction blockbusters like Inception and Interstellar, director Christopher Nolan made a name for himself with 2000's innovative psychological thriller Memento. Here are a few fascinating facts about the gripping mystery that you might want to jot down before you forget them. 

1. THE NOLAN BROTHERS CAME UP WITH THE IDEA WHILE ON A ROAD TRIP. 

In the summer of 1996, a 26-year-old Christopher Nolan set off from his Chicago home on a 2,000-mile drive toward his new life in Los Angeles with his 20-year-old brother Jonathan along for the ride. In lieu of the license plate game, the Nolan boys passed the time by chatting about potential creative projects, notably Jonathan’s idea for a film about a man with anterograde amnesia. 

2. JONATHAN NOLAN PUBLISHED A SHORT STORY VERSION OF THE FILM AFTER ITS RELEASE. 

Christopher spent the next few months begging Jonathan, who was a student at Georgetown University at the time, to whip up a draft of his idea. Jonathan eventually turned in Memento Mori, which, despite a few major differences, carried the basic backbone of the film that Christopher would eventually write and direct. 

Since Memento was released internationally in the fall of 2000, several months prior to the 2001 publication of “Memento Mori” in Esquire, the film’s script was eligible for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar at the 74th annual Academy Awards. It was nominated, but lost to Gosford Park

3. CHRISTOPHER NOLAN ORIGINALLY WANTED A BIGGER STAR FOR THE MAIN ROLE. 

Before deciding that the relatively unknown Guy Pearce would be more effective (not to mention affordable) in the role of the amnesia-stricken Leonard, Nolan considered some big-name actors like Brad Pitt, Charlie Sheen, and Thomas Jane for the part. Aaron Eckhart, a rising star who would later appear in 2008's The Dark Knight for Nolan, was also in contention for the part. 

4. MEMENTO DID NOT TAKE LONG TO MAKE.

Despite the intricate script, Memento was a rather breezy production. Shooting wrapped in just 25 days. What’s more, all of Carrie-Ann Moss’s scenes were shot in just eight days. 

5. IT DID TAKE A WHILE FOR THE FILM TO FIND A DISTRIBUTOR.

Due to the challenging nature of the story, Memento did not have an easy time finding distribution. In a conversation with The A.V. Club, Nolan recalled a lengthy period in which company after company passed on his picture: “We went through about six months of saying, ‘What the hell are we gonna do?’ That's a long time to be under that kind of pressure.” 

6. NOLAN’S GIRLFRIEND WAS INSTRUMENTAL IN GETTING THE MOVIE OFF THE GROUND. 

Without a helping hand from Emma Thomas—Nolan’s then-girlfriend, now-wife, and perennial producer—Memento might never have reached the screen. Thomas approached her associate Aaron Ryder, a producer at Newmarket Films, with the script, which won him over instantly. 

7. ALL OF THE BLACK-AND-WHITE DIALOGUE WAS IMPROVISED. 

According to actor Stephen Tobolowsky, the Memento script included zero dialogue for his character, the amnesia-afflicted Sammy Jankis. The actor was asked to improvise throughout the black-and-white flashback scenes that feature his character struggling with his memory impairment (making the line, “Test this, you f*****g quack” a Tobolowsky original). Pearce was also encouraged to improvise during the grayscale sequences in which he narrates Sammy’s story to an unseen listener.

8. JOE PANTOLIANO ALSO INVENTED ELEMENTS FOR HIS CHARACTER. 

Teddy, Leonard’s ill-fated tagalong played by Joe Pantoliano, seems to have a penchant for the element of surprise, always dropping in on Leonard (and the viewer) unannounced. It was Pantoliano’s idea that Teddy be sitting in Leonard’s car without his knowledge—thus scaring him half to death—in one scene midway through the movie. 

9. TOBOLOWSKY ACTUALLY HAD AMNESIA. 

Tobolowsky is hesitant to credit his talent alone for his mastering the part of Sammy. The actor believes that his personal experience with memory loss gave him an edge. Tobolowsky endured temporary anterograde amnesia following a medical procedure; for a period of time after the procedure, Tobolowsky found himself “waking up” in rooms in his home without any recollection of when or why he entered them. However, his condition was far less severe than that which we see in the movie. 

10. NEUROSCIENTISTS LOVE THIS FILM. 

In addition to positive critical reviews, Memento enjoyed a wealth of commendations from the scientific community over its realistic depiction of memory loss disorders. Representatives from the National Institute of Mental Health deemed the movie “close to a perfect exploration of the neurobiology of memory,” while renowned neuroscientist Christof Koch called it “the most accurate portrayal of the different memory systems in the popular media.” 

11. NOLAN WANTED TO MAKE A NONLINEAR FILM BECAUSE OF A SOCIOLOGICAL THEORY ABOUT PIZZA DELIVERY. 

The complicated chronology of Memento was more than just a stylistic preference to Nolan—it was a cultural necessity in a pre-DVR world. With more and more people watching movies on television leading up to Memento’s release, the director felt films were increasingly sacrificing narrative quality in favor of accessibility to viewers opting to leave the room. 

“I think that film narrative has been held back by television," Nolan told the Los Angeles Times. "It comes down to what I call the pizza delivery scenario: If a pizza arrives while you're watching TV, you have to answer the door, deal with the man, and then be able to get straight back into the story, having missed three or four minutes. With Memento, on the other hand, if you come in three minutes late you miss the whole movie.” 

12. THE DIRECTOR’S BIGGEST INFLUENCE WASN’T ANOTHER MOVIE, BUT A NOVEL. 

Nolan has shrugged off the idea that similarly nonlinear films such as Betrayal or Je t'aime, je t'aime played a significant role in his development of Memento, but he readily credits a piece of literature for inspiring his fascination with experimenting with narrative form: the 1983 novel Waterland by Graham Swift, which explores the personal turmoil of a history teacher in Greenwich, England. 

13. ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT JOBS ON SET WAS GIVEN TO A FARRELLY BROTHERS ALUM. 

For a movie that hinges so delicately on continuity, the script supervisor had a hugely important job. Memento left this responsibility in the hands of Steve Gehrke, who was known best in the industry for his work on Farrelly Brothers comedies like There’s Something About Mary and Me, Myself & Irene. Even Nolan found this funny, telling Indiewire, “We had this continuity guy, actually, the Farrelly Brothers' continuity guy, strangely, but he was fantastic and amazing and totally grasped the whole thing.”

Even with his interesting pedigree, Gehrke nailed the job. He performed so well that he has worked on almost all of Nolan’s films since. 

14. NOLAN CHOSE THE MOTEL FEATURED IN THE FILM BASED ON HOW DIFFICULT IT WAS TO NAVIGATE. 

As Nolan says on the DVD audio commentary, “If M.C. Escher was going to design a motel, this would be it.” 

15. YOU CAN WATCH THE MOVIE IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER (IF YOU PASS THE TEST).

The second disc of the 2002 limited edition Memento DVD package rewarded buyers with the option of watching the film in chronological order. In order to unlock this unadvertised feature, however, the user had to solve an interactive puzzle consisting of several memory-based questions.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
getty images (March and Beery)/ istock (oscar)
arrow
entertainment
6 Times There Were Ties at the Oscars
getty images (March and Beery)/ istock (oscar)
getty images (March and Beery)/ istock (oscar)

Only six ties have ever occurred during the Academy Awards' near-90-year history. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) members vote for nominees in their corresponding categories; here are the six times they have come to a split decision.

1. BEST ACTOR // 1932

Back in 1932, at the fifth annual Oscars ceremony, the voting rules were different than they are today. If a nominee received an achievement that came within three votes of the winner, then that achievement (or person) would also receive an award. Actor Fredric March had one more vote than competitor Wallace Beery, but because the votes were so close, the Academy honored both of them. (They beat the category’s only other nominee, Alfred Lunt.) March won for his performance in horror film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (female writer Frances Marion won Best Screenplay for the film), and Beery won for The Champ, which was remade in 1979 with Ricky Schroder and Jon Voight. Both Beery and March were previous nominees: Beery was nominated for The Big House and March for The Royal Family of Broadway. March won another Oscar in 1947 for The Best Years of Our Lives, also a Best Picture winner. Fun fact: March was the first actor to win an Oscar for a horror film.

2. BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT // 1950

By 1950, the above rule had been changed, but there was still a tie at that year's Oscars. A Chance to Live, an 18-minute movie directed by James L. Shute, tied with animated film So Much for So Little. Shute’s film was a part of Time Inc.’s "The March of Time" newsreel series and chronicles Monsignor John Patrick Carroll-Abbing putting together a Boys’ Home in Italy. Directed by Bugs Bunny’s Chuck Jones, So Much for So Little was a 10-minute animated film about America’s troubling healthcare situation. The films were up against two other movies: a French film named 1848—about the French Revolution of 1848—and a Canadian film entitled The Rising Tide.

3. BEST ACTRESS // 1969

Probably the best-known Oscars tie, this was the second and last time an acting award was split. When presenter Ingrid Bergman opened up the envelope, she discovered a tie between newcomer Barbra Streisand and two-time Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn—both received 3030 votes. Streisand, who was 26 years old, tied with the 61-year-old The Lion in Winter star, who had already been nominated 10 times in her lengthy career, and won the Best Actress Oscar the previous year for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Hepburn was not in attendance, so all eyes fell on Funny Girl winner Streisand, who wore a revealing, sequined bell-bottomed-pantsuit and gave an inspired speech. “Hello, gorgeous,” she famously said to the statuette, echoing her first line in Funny Girl.

A few years earlier, Babs had received a Tony nomination for her portrayal of Fanny Brice in the Broadway musical Funny Girl, but didn’t win. At this point in her career, she was a Grammy-winning singer, but Funny Girl was her movie debut (and what a debut it was). In 1974, Streisand was nominated again for The Way We Were, and won again in 1977 for her and Paul Williams’s song “Evergreen,” from A Star is Born. Four-time Oscar winner Hepburn won her final Oscar in 1982 for On Golden Pond.

4. BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE // 1987

The March 30, 1987 telecast made history with yet another documentary tie, this time for Documentary Feature. Oprah presented the awards to Brigitte Berman’s film about clarinetist Artie Shaw, Artie Shaw: Time is All You’ve Got, and to Down and Out in America, a film about widespread American poverty in the ‘80s. Former Oscar winner Lee Grant (who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1976 for Shampoo) directed Down and Out and won the award for producers Joseph Feury and Milton Justice. “This is for the people who are still down and out in America,” Grant said in her acceptance speech.

5. BEST SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION) // 1995

More than 20 years ago—the same year Tom Hanks won for Forrest Gump—the Short Film (Live Action) category saw a tie between two disparate films: the 23-minute British comedy Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life, and the LGBTQ youth film Trevor. Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi wrote and directed the former, which stars Richard E. Grant (Girls, Withnail & I) as Kafka. The BBC Scotland film envisions Kafka stumbling through writing The Metamorphosis.

Trevor is a dramatic film about a gay 13-year-old boy who attempts suicide. Written by James Lecesne and directed by Peggy Rajski, the film inspired the creation of The Trevor Project to help gay youths in crisis. “We made our film for anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider,” Rajski said in her acceptance speech, which came after Capaldi's. “It celebrates all those who make it through difficult times and mourns those who didn’t.” It was yet another short film ahead of its time.

6. BEST SOUND EDITING // 2013

The latest Oscar tie happened only three years ago, when Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall beat Argo, Django Unchained, and Life of Pi in sound editing. Mark Wahlberg and his animated co-star Ted presented the award to Zero Dark Thirty’s Paul N.J. Ottosson and Skyfall’s Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers. “No B.S., we have a tie,” Wahlberg said to the crowd, assuring them he wasn’t kidding. Ottosson was announced first and gave his speech before Hallberg and Baker Landers found out that they were the other victors.

It wasn’t any of the winners' first trip to the rodeo: Ottosson won two in 2010 for his previous collaboration with Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker (Best Achievement in Sound Editing and Sound Mixing); Hallberg previously won an Oscar for Best Sound Effects Editing for Braveheart in 1996, and in 2008 both Hallberg and Baker Landers won Best Achievement in Sound Editing for The Bourne Ultimatum.

Ottosson told The Hollywood Reporter he possibly predicted his win: “Just before our category came up another fellow nominee sat next to me and I said, ‘What if there’s a tie, what would they do?’ and then we got a tie,” Ottosson said. Hallberg also commented to the Reporter on his win. “Any time that you get involved in some kind of history making, that would be good.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Getty Images
arrow
entertainment
10 People Who Have Misplaced Their Oscars
Getty Images
Getty Images

Winning an Oscar is, for most, a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. Unless you’re Walt Disney, who won 22. Nevertheless, owning a little gold guy is such a rarity that you’d think their owners would be a little more careful with them. Now, not all of these losses are the winners' fault—but some of them certainly are, Colin Firth.

1. ANGELINA JOLIE

After Angelina Jolie planted a kiss on her brother and made the world wrinkle their noses, she went onstage and collected a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Lisa in Girl, Interrupted. She later presented the trophy to her mother, Marcheline Bertrand. The statuette may have been boxed up and put into storage with the rest of Marcheline’s belongings when she died in 2007, but it hasn’t yet surfaced. “I didn’t actually lose it,” Jolie said, “but nobody knows where it is at the moment.”

2. WHOOPI GOLDBERG

In 2002, Whoopi Goldberg sent her Ghost Best Supporting Actress Oscar back to the Academy to have it cleaned and detailed, because apparently you can do that. The Academy then sent the Oscar on to R.S. Owens Co. of Chicago, the company that manufactures the trophies. When it arrived in the Windy City, however, the package was empty. It appeared that someone had opened the UPS package, removed the Oscar, then neatly sealed it all back up and sent it on its way. It was later found in a trash can at an airport in Ontario, California. The Oscar was returned to the Academy, who returned it to Whoopi without cleaning it. “Oscar will never leave my house again,” Goldberg said.

3. OLYMPIA DUKAKIS

When Olympia Dukakis’s Moonstruck Oscar was stolen from her home in 1989, she called the Academy to see if it could be replaced. “For $78,” they said, and she agreed that it seemed like a fair price. It was the only thing taken from the house.

4. MARLON BRANDO

“I don’t know what happened to the Oscar they gave me for On the Waterfront,” Marlon Brando wrote in his autobiography. “Somewhere in the passage of time it disappeared.” He also didn't know what happened to the Oscar that he had Sacheen Littlefeather accept for him in 1973. “The Motion Picture Academy may have sent it to me, but if it did, I don’t know where it is now.”

5. JEFF BRIDGES

Jeff Bridges had just won his Oscar in 2010 for his portrayal of alcoholic country singer Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, but it was already missing by the next year’s ceremony, where he was up for another one. He lost to Colin Firth for The King’s Speech. “It’s been in a few places since last year but I haven’t seen it for a while now,” the actor admitted. “I’m hoping it will turn up, especially now that I haven’t won a spare! But Colin deserves it. I just hope he looks after it better.” Which brings us to ...

6. COLIN FIRTH

Perhaps Jeff Bridges secretly cursed the British actor as he said those words, because Firth nearly left his new trophy on a toilet tank the very night he received it. After a night of cocktails at the Oscar after-parties in 2011, Firth allegedly had to be chased down by a bathroom attendant, who had found the eight-pound statuette in the bathroom stall. Notice we said allegedly: Shortly after those reports surfaced, Firth's rep issued a statement saying the "story is completely untrue. Though it did give us a good laugh."

7. MATT DAMON

When newbie writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck took home Oscars for writing Good Will Hunting in 1998, it was one of those amazing Academy Award moments. Now, though, Damon isn’t sure where his award went. “I know it ended up at my apartment in New York, but unfortunately, we had a flood when one of the sprinklers went off when my wife and I were out of town and that was the last I saw of it,” Damon said in 2007.

8. MARGARET O'BRIEN

In 1945, seven-year-old Margaret O’Brien was presented with a Juvenile Academy Award for being the outstanding child actress of the year. About 10 years later, the O’Briens’ maid took the award home to polish, as she had done before, but never came back to work. The missing Oscar was forgotten about when O’Brien’s mother died shortly thereafter, and when Margaret finally remembered to call the maid, the number had been disconnected. She ended up receiving a replacement from the Academy.

There’s a happy ending to this story, though. In 1995, a couple of guys were picking their way through a flea market when they happened upon the Oscar. They put it up for auction, which is when word got back to the Academy that the missing trophy had resurfaced. The guys who found the Oscar pulled it from auction and presented it, in person, to Margaret O’Brien. “I’ll never give it to anyone to polish again,” she said.

9. BING CROSBY

For years, Bing Crosby's Oscar for 1944’s Going My Way had been on display at his alma mater, Gonzaga University. In 1972, students walked into the school’s library to find that the 13-inch statuette had been replaced with a three-inch Mickey Mouse figurine instead. A week later, the award was found, unharmed, in the university chapel. “I wanted to make people laugh,” the anonymous thief later told the school newspaper.

10. HATTIE MCDANIEL

Hattie McDaniel, famous for her Supporting Actress win as Mammy in Gone with the Wind, donated her Best Actress Oscar to Howard University. It was displayed in the fine arts complex for a time, but went missing sometime in the 1960s. No one seems to know exactly when or how, but there are rumors that the Oscar was unceremoniously dumped into the Potomac by students angered by racial stereotypes such as the one she portrayed in the film.

An earlier version of this post ran in 2013.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios