Atom Egoyan’s Remember is a tense and considered suspense film with a screenplay by Benjamin August. It toys with notions of recollection and revenge, finding the two notions working at cross-purposes and emphasizing the overall value of suspense. This 2015 picture is sometimes reminiscent of an Alfred Hitchcock outing, with shards of discovery unfolding over the course of its blackly comic 94 minutes.
Remember is paced so that the audience can’t quite figure out what’s happening. It uses the construct of an unreliable narrator, using the lead character’s waning memory as a way to muddy relevant details. It adds to the fog by functioning as a nervous road movie, with many moments of possible discovery creating subdued strain.
Christopher Plummer stars as Zev, a 90-year-old man living out his days in a nursing home. His wife has died recently and he’s sitting shiva. On the last day of his mourning, Zev’s friend Max (Martin Landau) gives him a letter of instructions that sets him on a task he promised to do when his wife passed on. Zev embarks on a road trip of sorts.
Ahead of him is the task to exact retribution on one Rudy Kurlander, a Nazi responsible for killing his family at Auschwitz. It turns out there are many Rudy Kurlanders and Zev moves from man to man in search of the one worthy of his bullet. This search is complicated by his memory loss and his frailty.
Plummer is stellar as Zev and he travels with the frustration of a man waiting for his own end. But his life exists in rubble; he wakes up calling for his wife, Ruth, and doesn’t know why he can’t find her. The letter serves as his sense of purpose, with Max’s nudging the only thing pushing him onward and upward.
The complications reach beyond Zev’s memory. He meets a Rudy Kurlander on his deathbed and he’s definitely not the guy. Another Rudy Kurlander is dead, but his son John (Dean Norris) remains ablaze in the light of his father’s hate. Meeting John is particularly trying for Zev, as the display of Nazi memorabilia progresses to deplorable bigotry and brutal violence.
Egoyan wisely keeps Remember moving forward and he only falters when he wanders away from Plummer’s perspective at the very end. Cinematographer Paul Sarossy shoots the action with an innate smoothness. He arcs around walls and bends through homes and nursing homes, finding pressure and longing and worry.
Egoyan toys with his audience. He uses Zev’s Glock, a weapon he acquires in an amusing scene at the gun shop, as a Hitchcockian bomb on a bus. He keeps insisting that finding the gun will be the undoing of Zev, that its discovery will be the one thing that sets this whole business off.
There is another object of discovery that is toyed with to greater effect, but Egoyan saves its significance for the end and twists the plot in knots. Audiences will either love the twist or find that it undermines the entire journey. It’s not the grand undoing that some critics have suggested, but the closing moments do set a line in the sand for Remember: this is pure suspense.
And make no mistake, there’s nothing wrong with pure suspense. While some may wish for Egoyan to further push his ethical arguments, Remember is more an exercise in cunning and less an search for significance. It makes sense. Zev is beyond meaning and the events of his life exist only as shadows. The rest, it would seem, is like a shot through the heart.