I wrote an article about this for Screen Education. There's an earlier version of what was published - here, on my personal website. Here's a bit from it.
... the very first moment is the last. Memento may well be unique in that the very first thing we see after the film's title appears on the screen is the very last thing that occurs in the story. Many other films begin with the same situation as the one with which they end. Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950) is one well-known example. The film opens with the William Holden character lying face down in the swimming pool. The twist in this story is that he narrates the film in voiceover, despite already being dead. But whereas Billy Wilder's film begins, as usual, running forwards, the outrageous thing about Christopher Nolan's is that his is actually running backwards.
And here's my concluding paragraph.
Standing far enough back from Memento, it is possible to read its meaning as being not dissimilar to the message of Dead Poets Society (Peter Weir, 1989): carpe diem, seize the day, grasp the moment. Nolan's film is perhaps less uplifting than Weir's, but it does make the same suggestion: that this moment is all we have, so we should make the most of it. A tagline used to advertise the film is 'Some memories are best forgotten'. As is often the case with such a line, although it does pack a lot of suggestions into a few words, it is ultimately misleading. Memento reminds us that life is short and death inevitable; its tagline could read: 'memento mori'.
Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)
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