The opening scene of Memento is actually the last scene of the narrative. The unique narrative style employed consists of two separate storylines which alternate, the first is a subjective narrative which is shown in colour and plays in reverse chronological order, these are essentially flash backs which go further back in time. The second narrative is objective, shown in black and white and plays in chronological order. The opening scene is not only the last scene of narration but it is also played in reverse. The protagonist Leonard Shelby is seen holding a Polaroid photo of a dead man, the audience is then exposed to the sequence of events prior to this in reverse chronological order. The purpose of presenting this scene backwards is to attempt to put the audience into the protagonists mind, making them comprehend his peculiar perceptual distortion. Viewers are presented with the same issue as the protagonist. The audience can see the present but are uncertain of the past events which led here. This develops the idea that to some degree identity is dependent on memories, as without the past people cannot truly know who they are. Nolan employs this unconventional narrative style in order to challenge the viewer’s expectations and to make them truly question the significance of their memories and how they have moulded them into the person they are today.
Likewise in the opening scene of Inception Nolan employs non-linear narrative to achieve a similar effect. The opening scene is actually a flash-forward from later in the film. The purpose of commencing the narrative with a flash-forward is to captivate the audience by engrossing them in the chaotic mind-state of the main character Dominik Cobb. Several characters are introduced in this scene, however their importance and relevance to the plot is not explained. For example when Cobb washes ashore he sees a delusion of two young children and is then taken to meet an old man named Saito. It is not until the next scene when a younger version of Saito is meeting with Cobb that it becomes apparent that the opening scene was in fact a flash-forward and not the true beginning of narration. Also the same delusion of the children playing in this scene, is repeated throughout the film and it is not until the end of the narrative that the children shown are actually real, not just a figment of Cobb’s memory. This foreshadows Cobb’s true desire throughout the film of wanting to so desperately see his children again in real life, not just as a figment of his subconscious. Nolan uses non-linear narrative to make the audience feel irritated by exposing them to information which cannot be fully comprehended until the end of the film, going against the audience’s expectations. By doing this the viewer feels confused and obligated to pursue answers to uncover the truth from the delusions.
The use of non-linear narrative in Nolan’s films assists in developing the idea that his protagonists have broken minds and that their path to reach self-realisation is a challenging one. The dissimilarity between the two is that in Inception Cobb’s journey is to find redemption but in Memento, Shelby pursues vengeance. Both films follow a complex narrative structure in order to reflect