Friday, March 25, 2011

Memento, Storytelling, and Reading the Bible


Chris Nolan’s first widely seen feature was (appropriately for him) an interesting experiment in storytelling. The plot itself is rather mundane and uninteresting. A guy kills a man because he thinks he is responsible for the rape and murder of his wife. That is not a spoiler because you find all of that out in the opening credits. The plot is not the point. The whole film is an exercise in telling a story unconventionally.

We start at the end and bounce back and forth between one storyline working backwards from the end and another one working forwards from the beginning. A lot of people are amazed at the revelations that occur in the middle of the plot, but that is simply how storytelling works: you save the most impressive reveals for the climax of the story. If the best stuff happens in the middle, you structure your story appropriately.

There is apparently a feature on some versions of this movie’s DVDs that allow you to watch the whole plot in chronological order. Why would you want that? Maybe it is for people without enough recall to keep track of what is going on in the theatrical edit.

The popularity of this and other similar stories that came out in the nineties makes one wonder why the Bible is not more popular in today’s generations. Many people complain that the scale of the Bible and the complexity of the message are simply too hard to absorb. However, reading the Bible is a lot like taking in a story like Memento. You keep track of little nits of information as you discover them and over time an amazing picture begins to take shape. You don’t even have to start at the “beginning” or work your way back from the “end.” The stuff in the middle of the plot is the most important stuff to be sure, and that is a good place to begin, but the Bible can handle any approach. It is the greatest story ever told.

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