Written by Benjamin August
Directed by Atom Egoyan
Zev Guttman wakes to find his wife Ruth is missing. Exiting his bedroom, he finds himself in the hallway of a nursing home where a kind nurse explains that Ruth passed away months ago. Zev is slipping further into dementia and losing track of memory from both the present and the deep past. His only friend is Max, a fellow resident of the nursing home who has a secret pact with Zev. One evening Max gives Zev a letter which sets the latter man on a journey across America, looking for a man named Rudy Kulander. This man has ties to both Max and Zev and their meeting will end in bloodshed.
Remember is the second Atom Egoyan film we have comes across in the A24 marathon, the first being The Captive. If you don’t remember, I passionately hate The Captive, so check out that review. Remember isn’t horrible but it suffers in many areas. And that is a shame because it has a root story with plenty of dramatic potential. If Remember had been in the hands of someone who valued subtlety we could have had a very emotionally compelling film, but instead, we get a picture that borders on grindhouse exploitation. That’s a rough fit for a movie that is about Holocaust survivors.
This isn’t much of a spoiler because anyone paying attention in the first fifteen minutes will figure out we are dealing with survivors hunting down Nazis. This isn’t an action movie though; it is a very intimate hunt. Max and Zev are looking for the specific blockfuhrer who is responsible for the murders of their families. There should be lots of dramatic tension as Zev embarks on this quest, but it’s surprisingly absent. Christopher Plummer, who plays Zev, does an excellent job bringing pathos to his character and we ache every time he wakes up, his memory resets to before Ruth’s death. However, even if we want to view this film as a character piece, the decision to have such melodramatic music scoring every scene takes us right out of that.
One of Remember’s most significant problems is that the lead character doesn’t take actions that affect the plot in any meaningful way. He is told that there are four men in the United States and Canada with the name Rudy Kulander and that he will need to visit them to determine which one is the Nazi. Well, wouldn’t you know it, it turns out to be the fourth man. Zev stumbles along his predetermined path, and we have a sense that nothing will genuinely impede him from doing that the script needs him to do. Even when he is cornered in the home of a second generation Nazi, he manages to bumble his way out of situation way too quickly.
This isn’t a pure revenge exploitation flick, though it treads into that territory briefly. It is a compelling hook of a story but without any real sense of tension once we get started. There’s a touching narrative about age and memory woven throughout, but it is resolved in one of the most ludicrously shocking finales I have ever seen in cinema. Remember is lots of things partially but never fulfills a single one of them and that is ultimately disappointing with a story that had potential to be something great.