The queen of weirdness, at least on our syllabus, is Blue Velvet. It is filled with those moments when you just go “huh? what did I just see?” and leave you thinking about the film hours after it is over. However, many noirs have these moments. My personal favorite is that balloon salesman in The Third Man. He is given so much screen time, and I’m still not really sure why. Fargo too is painted with a coat of the weird, as seen in details like the accordion poster on Scotty’s door. Why is this obviously fake poster of an unpopular musical instrument placed in the center of the frame? These are little moments, but they really add to the universe these movies construct.
It’s probably wrong to read too much into these little weird moments, but I’m going to go ahead and over analyze it anyway. Most film noirs have a sense of nihilist absurdity; the world is pointless and that combined with Human’s desperate desire for sense makes reality nonsensical. The plot trope of searching for capital T-truth—which I’ve talked about before—and the fact that it is never really found by anyone, is a narrative metaphor for this absurdity. Young Charlie becomes cold and cynical when she sees the absurdity, Walter Neff becomes introspective and melancholic, and indeed, pessimism is a fair reaction. However, the moments of weird—the balloon-man, the accordion, that thing on Jeffery’s wall—are almost an optimistic reaction to it. They acknowledge the strangeness of realizing a lack of meaning, and have fun with it. When our desire for meaning is met with a random picture of a polka player, we’re able to laugh.
I am talking about this weirdness for a reason, and a Memento related reason. In terms of weirdness, Memento is like Zooey Deschanel. At first, it seems really strange, maybe to the point of being off-putting—hey, this girl is Elf is really quirky and interesting—but then once you see it for a second or third time you realize that its, well, frankly, not really all that different—oh, now she has a show on Fox based on how quirky and interesting she is; well, at least she understands capitalism. Yes, Memento does have a structure that is undeniably cool and probably accurate in how it portrays anterograde amnesia. But it seems that beyond the structure the movie is not really weird at all.
For example, in the beginning of the movie (which is the end of the story) Guy Pierce has two scars running parallel on his left cheek. These are extremely noticeable, due to frequent close ups and reaction shots to Guy’s face. And of course, eventually we are shown exactly how he received those scars. It’s the same thing with the writing on the back of the cards, the gun, the different characters, the beer that the man laughs at; everything receives its explanation. There is nothing left for the audience to question or to really talk about after the movie is over. The movie is like doing a puzzle, but saving the corner and edge pieces for last; it is a longer and more complex path toward creating a big picture, but in the end the picture is the same.
Now, I’m not saying that this A) makes Memento a bad movie or B) not a film noir. There are plenty of film noirs that took themselves very seriously but were still excellent. Chinatown made sense, as did Klute, and they weren’t that weird. Most of the older films, too, had very few strange moments. I guess all I’m trying to say is that if you want your world to be cold and absurd, its always good to toss in the inexplicable.