Movie Review: Remember (2015)
“It’s never too late for revenge.”
Director: Atom Egoyan
Cast: Christopher Plummer, Kim Roberts, Amanda Smith
Synopsis: An Auschwitz survivor suffering from Alzheimer’s embarks on a quest to kill a Nazi war criminal.
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As his mind descends into a twilight world of lost memories and confusion, 80-something Zev Guttman (Christopher Plummer – The Forger, Danny Collins) is tortured by a daily surge of grief over the loss of his wife as he becomes aware once again of her death. He can still just about function, but Alzheimer’s is slowly claiming him, implacably erasing his memories and the traces of the man he used to be. He lives in a care home, and has become friendly with Max Rosenbaum (Martin Landau – North By Northwest), a fellow Auschwitz survivor who was – and still is – involved in hunting down Nazi war criminals who assumed the identities of murdered prisoners to aid their flight from Poland at the end of WWII. Max has recently learned that the Camp Commandant who ordered the murder of their families in Auschwitz is now living in America under the name of Rudy Kurlander, but, because he is in a wheelchair, is unable to exact the revenge he so desperately desires. So, perhaps without quite realizing the enormity of the undertaking, Zev has agreed to ‘escape’ the confines of their care home and, with a letter of precise instructions from Max in his pocket, travel the country in search of Kurlander, who could be any of four men that share the name.
Zev’s situation contains faint echoes of that of Leonard Shelby in Memento. His faltering memory means he awakens with no recollection of his wife’s death – the letter from Max informs him each morning that he (Zev) was by her side when she died – or of his mission. It’s only with the help of Max’s letter – and the words ‘read letter’ scrawled in ink on his wrist – that Zev is able to remember. But, as its title suggests, Remember is far more preoccupied with the implications inherent in the idea that memories – and the loss of them – can sometimes be an influence powerful enough to shape our lives in unexpected ways. It’s a subject with a fascinating resonance when one applies it beyond the personal and to the collective memory. The internet has seen us enter an era in which information has never been more accessible, and yet, even before all of its survivors have passed away, our collective memory of the Holocaust has grown diffuse and fragmented.
But the melancholic resonance in Remember is hidden beneath a straightforward story which, in less conventional hands than director Atom Egoyan and (incredibly) first-time writer Benjamin August, could have amounted to little more than a stoic, unremarkable voyage of self-discovery. Reality might be a victim in deference to a plot which requires a frail, elderly semi-senile man to evade concerned family and authorities long enough to fulfil his mission, but the situation never feels forced, despite a bruising – and admittedly tense – encounter with a racist police officer which, in less capable hands, might easily have derailed the entire picture. A last minute twist turns the film on its head, and while its impact might be dulled by the doubts and questions raised by retrospective contemplation, it blends seamlessly with Remember’s overarching theme.
(Reviewed 7th August 2016)