by Benjamín Harguindey
An old man (Christopher Plummer) wakes up alone in bed, calling to “Ruth”. He steps out of the bedroom and into the halls of an asylum. The nurse tells him his wife died recently. The old man is suffering from dementia, and his memory vanishes every time he rises in the morning. He relies on two mementos throughout the movie: the Auschwitz number tattooed on his arm, and a letter with instructions to find and kill Rudy Kurlander – the Nazi that annihilated his family in that concentration camp.
Remember (2015) is an amnesiac thriller much like Memento (2000). Both protagonists swear to avenge a loved one, a mission that is complicated by amnesia. Both rely on tattoos and instructions whose interpretation is problematic. Both chase chimerical fugitives – ‘Rudy Kurlander’ is the movie’s ‘John G.’. There are four Germans living under such alias between the United States and Canada, and the hero must look them up until he finds the right one. So he escapes the asylum, buys a gun, stashes it in a small bag and sets forth on a road trip assisted (and directed) via telephone by his asylum comrade Max (Martin Landau).
Oftentimes amnesia is freely used as a narrative tool to generate suspense, intrigue, mystery. In Memento, “the backwards movie”, amnesia is a structural recourse, a gimmick designed to send the viewer into a state of constant vertigo analogous to the protagonist’s, whose memory reboots every 15 minutes. But Memento’s story isn’t “about” memory, and thereon lies the criticism – endemic to Christopher Nolan’s oeuvre – that the movie’s syntax does not correspond with its semantics.
In Remember, memory (and lack thereof) provides both the conflict and theme of the movie. The problem is that Zev Guttman (Plummer) wants to remember and can’t, which at the same time supplies the movie’s theme: regaining morality through memory. Plummer composes the sickly Zev with a series of attractive contrasts – he’s frail but determined, determined yet forgetful, forgetful but disciplined and righteously moral.
This reflection on memory (with the Holocaust as a topic) is shaped like a thriller. Referring to the Holocaust in any context other than a documentary or a historical dramatization is usually controversial; never mind associating it with a sensational genre such as the thriller. There’re unexpected twists and turns, all of which would be at home in the most obscene B movie, but the script (by Benjamin August) knows how to apply them intelligently. The surprises stem organically from the plot, which is always toying with the same elements and never cheats by throwing in new ones.
Remember is an excellent thriller, constructed logically and with tidiness; the kind that works perfectly throughout the movie and keeps working just as perfectly once its mysteries have been elucidated. It features a lead performance that is both powerful and moving, and a veteran cast (Martin Landau, Bruno Ganz, Dean Norris, Jürgen Prochnow) whose characters each leave an indelible mark. So, why has it had such lukewarm reception by the international press? Is it the plot’s ambiguity? The taboo of the Holocaust, the vulgarity of synthesizing a thriller out of it? Is it the fact that, for all its twists, this is Atom Egoyan’s – a once obscure cult auteur – most linear, “friendly” film?
Remember ended up dividing its audience, probably more so due to its topic than its ideology. Fans and detractors or Egoyan quarrel while deluded people search for tiny holes in its plot, for there are many moments of chance and coincidence in it (though little hinges on them). And then there are those who will turn in disgust at the sight of thriller plot points, even if they’re impeccably used. Be that as it may, Atom Egoyan, Benjamin August and Christopher Plummer have produced a piece of cinema that is unquestionably entertaining, touching and clever.
Benjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).