Christopher Plummer as Zev Guttman in Remember
A man suffering from dementia is sent to do detective work. The very description of the plot of Remember suggests that it could be a comedy in very bad taste, perhaps with Johnny Knoxville in old-age makeup performing the lead role, but the latest Atom Egoyan film is something far different and more sensitive than its plot would indicate. This is the rare film that takes on the indignities of old age and yet does so using a storyline that allows more than just watching the character suffer a steep decline in both physical and mental function in a claustrophobic setting. This is definitely not Amour.
The film that Remember actually resembles most is the Christopher Nolan classic Memento, which followed a man who could not form new memories as he tracked down his wife’s killer. The mission that this film’s lead Zev Guttman (Oscar winner Christopher Plummer) has requires him to track down a man he believes to be a guard in the Nazi concentration camp where both he and his fellow nursing home resident (Oscar winner Martin Landau) were imprisoned during the second world war. Guttman must track down the several men living in the United States named Rudy Kurlander to see which one of them was actually the concentration guard responsible for the death of their respective families.
Plummer may be the only actor alive who could have performed the lead role in Remember, which requires a man well into his 80s with the physical stamina to endure the cross-country journey to track down the Nazi guard. Even in his old age, Plummer remains a commanding figure, and there is a certain pleasure in seeing the man best known as Captain von Trapp track down Nazis instead of escaping them, yet Egoyan remains consistently attuned to the character’s mental and physical limitations. Landau offers strong support as the mastermind behind Plummer’s trip, and it is a pleasure watching the two men handle complex material at an age where they might normally be reduced to cameos.
Egoyan is perhaps best known for the 1997 film The Sweet Hereafter, and the Canadian director handles the script from Benjamin August with sensitivity and grace. If the film does seem a bit structurally pat, it is perhaps necessary. Once the audience learns that there are four Rudy Kurlanders that Guttman has to visit to determine which one is the concentration camp guard, it is virtually guaranteed that he will find the right one on his last visit.
Nonetheless, if the structure of the screenplay offers few surprises, Egoyan and August still find ways to surprise, including a final development that seems both utterly twisted and completely perfect. Only one of the segments in which Guttman visits one of the possible Kurlanders goes wrong. It features an appearance by Dean Norris of “Breaking Bad,” and despite the fine work by both Plummer and Norris, it plays as less subtle and more obvious than the rest of the film.
An interesting subtext to the film is its take on American gun culture. Remember at times seems as much a diatribe against American gun laws as it does against the horrors of Nazism. The film shows just how easy it is for a person like Zev Guttman to obtain a gun, despite obviously suffering from dementia, and how the presence of firearms is all too commonplace in many communities. There are reasons other than safety why Zev Guttman should not have a weapon, and those reasons are as much a shock to the audience as they are to him.
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