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Life Through the Lens: Unforgettable perfection, 20 years later

“I have to believe that, when my eyes are closed, the world’s still there.”

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Teaching, as a profession, has many unparalleled-highs and many unmatched-lows. It is a profession that supplies something daily that you aren’t prepared for or aren’t equipped to handle. It is also a profession that constantly reminds you of real-world value and down-to-earth worth.

For every awkward teenage moment there will be a moment that transcends beyond the circumstance. For every slightly inappropriate joke there is a question of substance and significance. For every glazed eye or gaping mouth there is an earnest set of ears desperate for knowledge. For every low there is a high.

One of my favorite consistent lessons I have learned from teaching is the world is so much bigger than myself. We, as human beings, tend to get too self-aware and too self-conscious. We get buried in OUR problems and OUR situations. We get lost in the details of OUR lives, details that would put others to sleep but…this is ME, for goodness sakes! We gladly apply blinders to our perception, convinced that focus is fundamental and lack of focus is fatal. A world of nearly 7.8 billion people is easily reduced to a space with only one person — a manageable and controllable number of “moi.”

While I matter, I’m not the only thing that matters. While my problems matter, they aren’t the only problems that matter. While my hardships are valid, I don’t have a monopoly on hardships, and chances are they are virtually nothing compared to hardships faced by others. Every day in teaching makes this lesson unavoidable: the world is so much bigger than myself.

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Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) cannot make new memories. Ever since his “incident” (in which his house was broken into, his wife was broken and killed and his brain was broken in an altercation), he has been physically incapable of remembering new things. He remembers everything before the “incident” — every detail and every fact — just nothing sticks after. To make matters worse (and much more complicated), the last thing he remembers is his wife…being raped and murdered. He is on a mission to find her killer and carry out vengeance…but it all seems to fade and disappear.

With Leonard’s short-term memory loss, whenever Leonard finds a lead, he has an epic struggle just to remember it! Whenever Leonard finds a sympathetic ear, he has an insurmountable obstacle to remember that relationship. Heaven-forbid Leonard uncover an enemy…he might, just as easily, love and trust them come morning. Nothing he learns can or will ever stick, so the question becomes: does it even matter then? Does the vengeance even matter if you don’t remember it? Does retribution matter if it doesn’t get logged into memory?

Yes, world-out-there. Yes, it does still matter.

Whether you remember every detail or forget every aspect…life continues outside of yourself. You may be downhearted or mean-spirited…but life continues outside of yourself. You may be green with jealousy or blue with depression…but life continues outside of yourself. You may be overjoyed or overconfident…but life continues outside of yourself. You may be stuck or free…but life continues outside of yourself. You may be loved or abandoned…but life continues outside of yourself.

You are not the center of the universe. You are not the only person who matters. You are not the end-all and be-all. You matter…but so does everyone else. They have hurt and love and pain and joy and stress. Place importance on others. Place concern on others. Place patience on others.

Let me just get this fact spoken: this is my second favorite movie of all time. There…I said it. “Memento” is unlike any movie I’ve ever seen. In all ways it is unrelentingly-original and unapologetically-complex. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill: I was personally wronged, so I must spend the rest of my life hunting down the Russians who so callously ruined my life only to find the real enemy was, in fact, a former associate of mine whom I used to trust with my life but the double-cross caught me off-guard because my biggest weakness is my past. You’ve seen that movie before, right?

This movie transcends the typical and lands in the legendary. Director Christopher Nolan, in just his first full-length feature film, defies traditions and shatters expectations. How is this for mind-blowing: half of the movie GOES BACKWARD while the other half GOES FORWARD and they meet in THE MIDDLE! The movie is expertly crafted, meticulously designed and uniquely produced. You will not find yourself nodding-off or day-dreaming because every second is integral and interesting.

Since this, his debut, Christopher Nolan has fashioned many masterpieces…but this remains my favorite. Nolan has a gift for creating complexity both unimaginable but also accessible at the same time. No matter how difficult his narrative, they are always grounded in pure-human-emotion. I can safely say that no one tells a story quite like Christopher Nolan!

Guy Pearce is wonderful as Leonard. He is part hero, part villain, part detective, part mystery, part art even (with all of his freaky tattoos). This movie created a Guy-fan out of me, for sure. Carrie-Anne Moss as Natalie is a cinematic-thrill. She will turn your heart soft…only to smash it to smithereens! She is a walking roller-coaster ride. Also noteworthy is Joe Pantoliano as Teddy. He carries this cryptic-character shrouded in mystery with ease and efficiency. Man…who can you trust?!

Whether it is the timely cinematography, the non-traditional narratives, the editing to end all editing or the layered performances — there is not a flaw to be found in this movie diamond. These 113 minutes changed the face of film forever…did I already tell you this? You see, I have this condition…

“Memento” can be rented on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube or streamed for free on IMDb TV.

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REPORT CARD: Memento

Grade: A+

Comment: A masterpiece to the very end…or should I say the middle.

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