You Will Never Forget Atom Egoyan’s Dementia/Holocaust/Thriller REMEMBER

by Frank Calvillo

I can only imagine how hard of a sell the makers of Remember had to make to convince financiers and distributors to take a chance on their project in an age of moviemaking where those with power are afraid to roll the dice. The idea of a film starring an octogenarian actor, which deals with the quest for revenge, the far reaching effects of Nazi Germany and the tragedy of dementia, would no doubt prove a risky venture for most investors and film executives. However, one of them thankfully ended up saying yes, and because of that, Remember exists as not only a sharp comment on all of the above, but also one of the best thrillers to come along in quite some time.

In Remember, 90-year-old Zev (Christopher Plummer) is a recently-widowed Jewish man living in a retirement home who cannot remember his own wife’s death as a result of his growing dementia. Following the end of Shivah, Zev’s closest friend, the wheelchair-bound Max (Martin Landau) gives Zev a set of instructions to a plan the two holocaust survivors have been working on — to take out the guard responsible for the deaths of their families during their time as prisoners at Auschwitz. As Zev sets out to locate the last surviving guard from their camp, he revisits one of the darkest periods of his life as his mind continues to be clouded with the illness taking him over.

From the opening of the film and throughout the course of the story, Remember perfectly illustrates the harshness of dementia and what it does: allowing those afflicted with it to remember little things, but forget certain special and important parts of life. This is especially true in Zev’s case when he visits the homes of the various men who might be his former prison guard. Each visit requires so much emotionally from Zev, dredging up the past in ways he never imagined as if he’s living the torment all over again right then and there. Meanwhile, aspects such as Zev continuously calling out for his wife and hearing the sounds of war play out in his head add to the film’s representation of the disease. The saddest moment of these occurs with Zev in the hospital after experiencing a fall. A girl visiting her ailing father in the next bed finds the letter Max wrote to Zev in the event he should forget where his is and what he’s doing. Hearing the little girl read the letter aloud to Zev is a telling and sad moment of what dementia does to people, namely having to relive painful memories, as well as the even larger task of clinging to your identity.

In the future, Remember will also be seen as a highly unique tale of the holocaust largely due to it’s interesting comment on how those who survived it changed their ideologies about their part in the war or sometimes, still feel just as strongly about what they did. While the first suspect Zev finds is not the guard he is looking for, the remorse he displays is great and real. When the second hospital-bound suspect reveals himself to have been a prisoner, not a guard before whispering: “homosexual” to Zev and points to himself, the latter collapses into his arms sobbing for the respective horrors both men endured. It’s amazing how the image of a mentally fragile and frail old man disappears when Zev visits a deceased suspect’s house. He is so full of quiet rage and anger that he is about to explode, especially when he sees how the dead guard’s son (Dean Norris) has proudly kept mountains of his fathers Nazi paraphernalia.

It’s almost a given that both Plummer and Landau are beyond spectacular in their roles. This is especially true of the former, who seamlessly carries the film on his shoulders, remaining the kind of magnetic film presence he’s always been. All the supporting actors rise up to the seasoned pros and the material, but it’s Norris who shines the most in what could possibly be one of his best turns.

I totally loved the way in which Remember flows from a melancholic drama to an intriguing thriller almost imperceptibly. However it’s the incredibly harrowing ending which mixes the two themes that will stay with anyone who is lucky enough to watch this film. The climax works spectacularly well for a film belonging to the thriller genre, especially one which deals in this particular subject, making sure it never once shortchanges its characters. Although, the nature of the ending proves so incredibly gut wrenching, even by genre standards, illustrating one of the ultimate forms of revenge, but also says a great deal about the torment that generation faced as they got older.

The Package

Three special features accompany the Blu-ray of Remember. The first, Performances of the Past, chronicles the making of the film with insights from cast and crew. The second, A Tapestry of Evil: Remembering the Past delves into the historical aspects of the film using holocaust experts who detail how the idea of bringing war criminals to justice started, while August also talks about his inspiration for the film, including the inserting of certain elements of the holocaust throughout the story. A commentary track featuring director Atom Egoyan, screenwriter Benjamin August and producer Robert Lantos rounds out the special features.

The Lowdown

The tragedy of the holocaust, and the devastating aspects of dementia are explored in one of the most taut thrillers of 2015.

Remember is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Lionsgate.

Originally published at on August 8, 2016.

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