There is a long history of movies using memory and the way it can be visualised on the screen. From Amnesia to senility it has been a rich source for on screen story telling. In a way it is the perfect medium. In the right hands, it can be used to tease the audience with only the protagonist’s point of view or fracturing the timeline to muddy the flow of the story. Atom Egoyan’s latest film, Remember, uses dementia as the mechanism to tell a story of loss, regret and revenge.
Zev (Christopher Plummer) doesn’t know what is going on. He suffers from senile dementia and is living in a care home. His wife died two weeks previously and every time he wakes up he needs to be reminded of the fact. He has a mission. Along with Max (Marin Landau), another resident in the home he has come up with a plan to track down and kill the man responsible for the death of his family while they were interred in the Auschwitz concentration camp. With the planning skills of Max and a letter to remind him of what to do, he goes off in search of the target. He has a list of four addresses to visit, one of which will be correct.
Three things of note make this film very memorable. The central performance from Christopher Plummer is immense. It is a subtle and underplayed performance.He is wholly convincing as Zev. He is able to express the sadness and loss he feels every time he finds out why his wife is not by his side. The way his face crumples is heartbreaking.
The second point of note is the direction. The film has an impact in a very quiet and languid way. There is no rushing of scenes and no requirement for any sort of montage or flashback scene. In some hands, this would have been used to highlight Zaf’s feeling of loss or hatred. Here it is not necessary. The character’s mood and demeanor are enough to convey to the audience what is happening.
The third is the writing. Here we have a story that engages the audience from the very first moment and has enough momentum to keep our interest until the very end. The visits to the possible victims are all different and we do not know just how each one is going to play out. It establishes an oppressive atmosphere. As Zev tires, his mental faculties deteriorate and his behaviour has the potential to change at any moment.
It is a very sympathetic portrayal of ageing and illness. Both Zev and Max still have a spark of life about them. Zev in particular shows that he is still a very personable individual. He is polite and kind especially with children. It demonstrates that the elderly still have value in society.
Overall, a superb central performance from Christopher Plumber makes this a film to really enjoy.