Remember: Of Dementia and Revenge


Dir.: Atom Egoyan (2015)




Remember begins not with violence or bloodshed, as is common with modern indie thrillers, but with an elderly man, confused and unaware of his surroundings. Early on, protagonist Zev Guttman's dementia plays a pivotal role in the film's narrative, as his best friend in the nursing home where he lives reminds him of the motivations Zev has long since forgotten. Both men are survivors of the Holocaust, with Auschwitz tattoo marks on their arms and with heavy hearts in their chests, as both of their families were murdered at the hands of the Third Reich. Now, Zev must follow Max's instructions, travel across the country, and find the Nazis who murdered their families, and acquire murderous vengeance. With only Max's letter of instructions to guide him, Zev must battle not only his intense dementia and memory loss, but also his own reservations and tired old bones, in order to gain his revenge, seventy years in the making.

I was unfortunately unable to attend this year's Chattanooga Film Festival, but I looked at the synopsis for this film in the film schedule, and I was intrigued. This film's thriller heart seemed to be hidden within its melodramatic exoskeleton, as the film ultimately provides a bizarre but nevertheless entertaining combination of the prestige drama with the revenge thriller. Remember is equal parts Still Alice and Death WishI'm not picky or pretentious when it comes to my overall taste in film - I love action films and I love my prestige arthouse dramas, so I was looking forward to this particular film. If Remember were able to pull off this type of crossover, it could potentially be one of the better independent achievements. 

Well, while it doesn't quite live up to its potential, this film does provide entertainment and a hefty amount of narrative punch. Remember starts off at a neutral dramatic tone, but it very quickly becomes a dark, nihilistic film. Its heartwarming and empathetic tone gives way to something far more sinister. While the narrative initially tells the tale of a man and how his mental condition hinders his own goals, as more information is learned about our protagonist, the film decides to foreshadow a bleak and foreboding maw of darkness that, while impressively cynical, does make the film's tone inconsistent. With a final gutpunch ending that unfortunately isn't as unexpected as the film likes to imply that it is with its score, I did not expect the film to descend into such a void, especially with its initial rather lighthearted and sympathetic drive. 

The film's acting provides more consistency in craft than its narrative. The cast as a whole are excellent, particularly from the lead, Christopher Plummer. He does a phenomenal job of selling his role, as he provides not only a believable depiction of an elderly main afflicted by his own psychological inhibitor, but also as a driven man who finds himself consumed by an unquenchable thirst for justice and vengeance. Even through his memory loss and his various unintentional actions caused by said loss, Plummer remains committed to portraying Zev as a haggard but motivated man, completely determined to exact his revenge even through his condition. If nothing else, this film shows the triumph of the human spirit and the potential power of persistence, even if the film doesn't quite end how Zev himself or the audience might expect.

The technical aspects of Remember, while not transcendent or otherwise worthy of intense acclaim, do serve the film well enough. The cinematography, mostly confined to a hospital, houses and a train, is not given particular focus, but there are not necessarily scenes that require such attention to shot composition. Director Atom Egoyan shows his concern not towards style or showmanship, he simply lets his actors act the script, and the process does feel organic and admirable in a way that proves his restraint. While the technical appearance or the soundtrack don't particularly diminish the film's quality, they don't enhance it, either. Remember is less concerned with providing memorable film sequences and more focused on simply telling this story, which simultaneously provides a dissonance between its own admirable restraint and its lack of artistic ambition.

Overall, Remember is a risk that doesn't quite pay off as much as it tries to, but one that still provides thrills and a fabulous addition to Plummer's acting range. Plummer's portrayal carries the film above most of its narrative and visual shortcomings, though not so far as to completely own the film. Perhaps if you like dramatic action with increasingly ominous developments, you'll enjoy it. Otherwise, if you require complete cohesion or a greater amount of substance to your viewing, I would advise caution when watching this particular revenge drama.