The genre of film noir is rather interesting from the points of view of psychology, ethics, philosophy, and, of course, esthetics and cinematography. The creation of John Boorman called “Point Blank” and the work of Christopher Nolan called “Memento” share the elements of film noir, so they can be compared and contrasted according to the plot and events depicted in these films, the behaviors of the main characters and the stylistic and thematic devices used by the makers to carry the messages of these world to the audience.
One of the very significant elements of film noir is the kind of main character employed in it. Both “Point Blank” and “Memento” have the typical film noir main character, who is male that act immorally and aggressively, who is confused, depressed, broken, and unstable. The absence of standard “good guy” qualities makes the main characters of “Memento” and “Point Blank” antiheros.
Spicer notes that the protagonists of the two films fit perfectly into the description of a character whose perception of time, the past and hit logical and moral decisions are jeopardized by their emotions caused by what can be called “pervasive problematizing of masculine identity” (47).
Their emotional crises are portrayed by means of use lighting, camera angles, and the positions of the characters in shots. For example, in the scene where Walker escapes from Alcatraz he is shown through a very rough lighting, the contract of shadow and light, his face is lit from the bottom angle, which distorts it, makes it look scary, the camera captures the actor from unexpected levels and angles, making him seem wild.
This scene and the use of these devices reflect perfectly the title of the film “Point Blank”, which means the moment of boiling, in this case emotional. In “Memento” the audience is reached through the “wrong” positioning of the actors in the frame. The shots often cut parts of faces or bodies of the characters so the viewer is all the time left with the desire to “fix” the shot by moving or turning the screen, as if this would allow them see the scenes clearer.
“Memento” and its main protagonist demonstrate a typically human crisis of identity. The difference between humans and non-human animals is that humans possess the capacity of intentionally addressing their memories, withdrawing them from a general storage of information in our minds.
Basically, this is what makes our analytical thinking possible. Shelby experiences a massive identity crisis because everything his human identity was based on – his memories and knowledge are gone due to his mental condition. In the film, Shelby practically survives almost without identity, he acts through the reactions to the moments and circumstances, which is an animal way of being, where planning or analysis are rather hard to put into practice.
The remains of Shelby’s identity are based on his last memory of the death of his wife, and this becomes the major moving force for his further actions. This proves Locke’s argument that people’s identities dwell not on their souls or bodies, but on their memories (Smith 36).
Both Shelby and Walker are highly confused. At some point in “Memento” Shelby shouts out the ultimate desire he shares with Walker saying “I want my life back!” (Memento). Even though Walker’s catch phrase is “I want my money back”, in reality, he wishes to un-do what was done, the ultimate double betrayal from the side of his friend and his wife, following the trace of the stolen money, Walker act on impulse moved by his irrational desire to stop his world from crumbling down (Point Blank).
Both Shelby and Walker from time to time demonstrate human qualities such as romanticism, sensitivity, kindness, showing that they are initially good men, broken by the cruel circumstances. Their violence is the answer to the surroundings that hurt them. Walker is portrayed as quite a primitive person, yet this is not his original self.
The general moods of both films are filled with the atmosphere of depression, rage and confusion, which is supported by the violation of chronology of events demonstrated in Walker’s flashbacks about the better days or the opening scene from “Memento” portraying the ultimate frustration of Shelby first through the backwards motion and then the sequence of black and white shots mixed together.
Finally, the actions of both characters are rather illogical. Shelby and Walker are motivated by rage and search for vengeance. Irrationally and passionately, they follow their goals, investigate, move forward, and get lost in this motion. The story of Walker ends suddenly after he eliminates a number of criminal authorities.
The death of Reese does not bring him the closure; the money offered to him in the final scene does not either. Walker’s name is a good reflection of his state of being in the film – he walks, aimlessly, but aggressively, he moves forward. Shelby is also the man of the motion, yet he gets lost within the motion and soon he stops being the man he remembered himself as. The motion takes over both protagonists, so they carry on existing without any rational purpose, motivated by their past, they create their present and future.
Memento. Dir. Christopher Nolan. Perf. Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano. Summit Entertainment, 2000. Film.
Point Blank. Dir. John Boorman. Perf. Lee Marvin. MGM, 1967.
Smith, Basil. “John Locke, Personal Identity”. The Philosophy of Neo-Noir. Ed. Mark T. Conard. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2007. 35-46. Print.
Spicer, Andrew. “Problems of Memory and Identity in Neo-Noir’s Existentialist Antihero”. The Philosophy of Neo-Noir. Ed. Mark T. Conard. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2007. 47-63. Print.