I keep telling my friends the reason I like The Prestige more than Memento. I have become tired of doing so (because so many believe I have no right to have this preference), and I will note it down here once and for all.
Memento is, in essence, a technique. It has plot (a fairly hackneyed one – but that seems intentional because it is heavily based in genre), and it has style, but it lacks thematic content. The straightforward (though backwards) chronology also works against true complexity. You get its point in first watch, and repeated viewings are essentially a geek’s exercise in spotting clues – it might be fun, but that’s all it is.
The Prestige has an advantage over it – a proper, complete story. Now this might require explanation: Experimental techniques in a medium tend to stand on their own in their first appearance. The pioneer has generally concentrated on the technique, and everything in the work apart from the technique tends to fade into the background. In that first instance. What is then done (by the pioneer or by another artist) is to apply the technique to a new work – this time, you will have content as well as style, not just the latter.
Memento has plot details, but little in the way of story. The characters (one of whom is a tabula rasa around whom the others interact) are drawn in broad strokes, with the final plot twist not actually having to add to the character anyway.
Memento was the technique (as was Following), and The Prestige was the later work. Nolan had a story – replete with plot, theme, characterization. He used his technique to bring out the correlations in the story, the thematic details that needed to be set beside each other, the twists that the plot needed placed at intervals irrespective of their place in a linear chronology, and the way the director had to keep track of the characters, so they made sense in both chronologies (the linear one and the one shown).
And that’s why I like The Prestige better. It isn’t just a series of events organised around a money shot, it’s a good watch too, and more complete.
Note: Previously posted in my tumblelog. This is for archival purposes.