Remember feels like it draws a lot of the same exploitative inspiration that Quentin Tarantino draws from films of the 60s and 70s that focused on minority populations in broadly stereotypical ways to convey a message of empowerment for those communities. Tarantino most notably did this with the revisionist history of Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, but Atom Egoyan’s Remember takes a different tact, focusing its lens on a modern day Holocaust survivor with Alzheimer’s. The violent premise of the film borders on being offensive, but thankfully the film that surfaces has enough by way of subtext and intrigue to make for a rather entertaining experience.
Zev (Christopher Plummer, still performing well into is eighties) is the aforementioned Survivor, and after the death of his wife, he promises to assist his friend Max, a fellow nursing home resident, with an important task. Max has been searching for the German officer responsible for killing their families at Auschwitz, and he has narrowed down the list of suspects to four German immigrants of appropriate age, all named Rudy Kurlander. Because Max is restrained to a wheelchair, he sends Zev out into the world with a list of instructions to track down the right Rudy Kurlander and kill him.
This film had a lot of potential to become a mockery of those suffering from dementia, but thankfully Zev is portrayed respectfully and sympathetically. He isn’t a man who really wants to kill, but he feels obliged to in order to avenge his family, and Max’s goading and the death of his wife are the impetus to make that happen. Plummer does a pretty great job of conveying a complexity in Zev that makes him more than a bumbling old archetype. However, that doesn’t mean the people around him don’t see him as one, either thinking him incompetent or harmless due to his age, which is precisely why he is able to buy a gun, cross the Canadian border without a passport, and even have his hidden weapon discovered by a security guard without consequence or struggle. It’s a smart commentary on the assumptions that people in authority will make when dealing with an unassuming white octogenarian, even when he presents a clear danger to others.
But the film does have an issue of hiccupping its way to the finish line, which is a shame given the short ninety minute runtime. It’s primarily a symptom to the Egoyan’s need to redundantly hammer home the fact that Zev is forgetful. There are too many scenes of Zev waking up, not knowing where he is, calling Max, and recovering enough memory to continue on his journey. Given the character, these revelatory moments make sense, but for the audience it quickly becomes tiresome, redundant, and rarely offers any new insight or plot progression. Making note of constant amnesiac episodes is fine, but dwelling on them for five to ten minutes at a time in order to pad the film is excessive.
The film culminates in a tense encounter with the final Rudy Kurlander that I won’t spoil, but I will say hinges upon a twist that I did not see coming, though I knew one was inevitable given how memory loss is generally handled in cinema. It’s a fairly clever conclusion that proved some of my assumptions completely wrong, which makes for a pretty nice cherry on top of a film that I feel comfortable recommending. If it were longer, I would likely find the somewhat redundant storytelling a bit more tedious, but there’s enough tension and social commentary held up by a pretty good lead performance to make the film justifiably worth your time.