Directed by: Atom Egoyan
Premise: An elderly widower suffering from dementia (Christopher Plummer) goes on a road trip in search of the Nazi war criminal who murdered his entire family at the Auschwitz concentration camp.
What Works: Remember is immediately satisfying as a thriller but it is also a smart tale of the relationship between memory and identity. The film is about Zev, played by Christopher Plummer, an elderly man living in a nursing home who has recently lost his wife. Zev struggles with dementia; when he goes to sleep he often forgets where he is or that his wife has passed. Despite his impairments, Zev sets out on a mission on behalf of Max, played by Martin Landau, his friend and a fellow nursing home resident. Zev escapes and travels by bus (using cash) in search of the Auschwitz cellblock commandant who had overseen the murder of his family. Because of his mental condition, Zev carries a lengthy note that reminds him of where he is going and what he is doing. Zev has a handful of names that might be the person he is looking for and he locates and interrogates each one while Zev’s son attempts to track his whereabouts. As a straightforward investigative thriller, Remember is a satisfying tale of mystery and revenge. Zev’s pursuit of his family’s killer brings the older man to some tense situations as he tries to identify these people while also struggling with dementia and his physical infirmities. Revenge appeals to the human psyche perhaps more than we would like to admit and movies are full of tales of men (and a few women) getting even at gunpoint. But Remember brings some interesting moral tensions to bear on that familiar concept. The amount of time that has passed complicates matters. Zev may kill his family’s murderer but after so many decades is the killer still the same person who carried out those atrocities? And does that have any bearing on the rightness of Zev’s revenge? These questions inform the revenge tale of Remember and make it a much more challenging story. This leads to another philosophical problem at the root of Remember: the relationship between memory and identity. Who we are or who we believe we are is subject to our memories, making our identity plastic, and Remember deals with that philosophical problem with intelligence. These issues are dramatized in the terrific performance by Christopher Plummer as Zev. The trauma of past violence, the grief of loss, and the stress of uncertainty come through in Plummer’s performance.
What Doesn’t: The conceit of Remember requires a pretty big suspension of disbelief by the audience. To believe that this old man could escape a nursing home and get on the road without being picked up strains credulity. If a Silver Alert had been issued (as the nursing home staff claims) it is likely that bus depots and international border crossing stations would have notices posted and Zev’s purchase of a handgun ought to set off some warning. There are a few other unlikely coincidences throughout the movie; it seems as though everyone Zev meets is either a Nazi or a Holocaust survivor. However, the filmmakers smartly pack the most unbelievable elements into the beginning of the movie which makes the rest of the film easier to accept. The ending of Remember is abrupt. In traditional narrative storytelling, the climax is followed by a denouement, in which the surviving characters reflect on the consequences of the outcome and the audience has time to process what they’ve seen and transition out of the story. The denouement of Remember isn’t quite satisfactory; the movie puts the son of Plummer’s character (Henry Czerny) through a terrible experience but the film doesn’t end with the son or his family.
DVD extras: Commentary track and featurettes.
Bottom Line: Remember is an engaging thriller that’s so involving that its improbabilities are excusable. The film satisfies as a mystery but it has a bit more going on in it than the usual revenge thriller and it is distinguished by a terrific performance from Christopher Plummer.
Episode: #599 (June 19, 2016)