In short, I’d say this is an underrated score. Julyan caresses his synthesizers with a soft touch, yet what oozes out of them is music that sounds truly disturbed by its own lack of detail. It has all the dark fuzziness of our brain damaged friend. And I think that’s a remarkable achievement, especially considering the complications of the order of the scenes. Though the music is never the best thing about Christopher Nolan’s films, this soundtrack (and The Prestige) is certainly worth a look.
Equally provocative and uncomfortable is the main theme, which has more melodic substance but no intention of clearing things up (even though it technically occurs over the end of the film’s events). The dark tonality here is very moving, but each chord lasts long enough for us to forget where the tonal centre actually is. It’s unsettling.
Take this scene, for example. The extremely low warbles from the black and white sequence are interrupted by the brash, synthesized pulsations that form the backdrop to a foot chase. But what doesn’t change is the tension, the weirdness, the not being able to place a melody, a cadence, any resolution. The whole movie is like this and every scene feels like it is leading up to an answer, or at least a release of energy. But it never comes. This is essential to the purpose of the film.
Subtlety goes a long way in movie scores; the visuals are always going to be at the forefront of people’s attention, so what is more important than a killer melody is a killer mood. Not all moods are simple though, yet Julyan’s score for this film perfectly captures the unfolding (or defolding?) confusion of Leonard alongside the varying dynamics of each scene. There is action and there is drama, but uncertainty is perpetual… repetitive in fact. This helps the viewer be forced into looking at what’s going on through these short time windows just as Leonard does.
In true Memento style, I’ve written this article in backwards-order paragraphs. Just like the film, the reader may not realise that this is the case until about half way through. Memento plays out its wonderfully revelatory story with an understandably confused main character (he has short-term memory loss), shady, complicated supporting characters and of course, its revolutionary use of the general film format. Because of this, I think the music score has been somewhat overlooked. It was composed by the virtually unknown David Julyan.