In response to an assignment asking students to create an interactive interface to the movie Memento, I chose to experiment with the effect of discarding a linear timeline in favor of creating stories based on user interest and goals.
As our second long-term project in Design Studio I, we were given the task of creating an interactive interface for viewers to experience Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000). We were told to assume that our audience would be made up of tech-savvy film students (a group not unlike our own classmates) who needed a teaching tool to interactively explore the complex plot of the movie. The goal of the assignment was not to create a viewing experience analogous to watching Memento in the theater, but to create an interface that would allow a student to access, organize, and manipulate the “data” of the movie – it’s scenes, soundtrack, and metadata from character information to setting and cinematic technique.
Memento the movie lends itself well to this kind of project. Built up from a series of self-contained episodes, the plot is told in a backwards, circular manner, beginning with the events that take place at the end of the storyline, and moving backwards to the initial catalyst of the action.
As one of the few students in the class who had not previously seen the movie, and who had little previous filmmaking experience, I approached this project with trepidation. A relatively inexperienced or unstudied movie-watcher, I tend to take the cinematic stories I see at face value, engaging fully with the experience of watching without being able to separate myself from the experience enough to view filmmaking technique with a critical eye. In addition, my training as a literature major in college leads me naturally to assume that storytelling (or in this case directorial) choices are made for a reason that can usually be interpreted as enhancing the overall impact of a narrative. It was therefore a high priority for me to create an interface that did not attempt to overwrite or interfere with Nolan’s chosen approach to telling the story of Leonard, Teddy, and John G.
The goal of this interface is to support a user to become engaged in the act of storytelling. To create my interface, I focused on the repeated or overlapping footage shared by may episodes, which builds the plot of the story, and anchors the viewer within the timeline of the narrative, even when episodes are shown out of order. My interface allows users to organically build their own version of the story of Memento, selecting and creating connections between episodes based on their own interests in particular characters, settings, sub-plots, or cinematic techniques. Using a system of relevancy ranking, thematic connections between episodes are illustrated visually, with those of greatest relevance appearing larger and closer than those that are less relevant. In this way, a user can build a relatively linear storyline by selecting the clips that have the most in common, or he or she can experiment with connections between clips that share fewer characteristics.