“Remember” (2016) – “If you lose a big fight, it will worry you all of your life. It will plague you – until you get your revenge.” – Muhammad Ali
The atrocities committed at Auschwitz during WWII cannot remotely be compared to a simple fight, but I imagine those horrific events can plague the survivors for the rest of their lives. For two concentration camp survivors – Zev (Christopher Plummer) and Max (Martin Landau) who live in a New York nursing home – they have contemplated vengeance for over 70 years. “Remember” is a revenge picture, and an intricately crafted one which becomes more complicated by the lead protagonist’s condition.
Zev – which means “Wolf” in Hebrew – morns the recent death of his wife, but he also suffers from dementia. A terribly debilitating illness, Zev finds himself calling out for his now deceased partner Ruth, because he keeps forgetting that she just passed. Most unfortunately, when his friend Max reminds Zev that she is gone, he relives the emotional pain of her death all over again. Zev is nearly 90 years-old and in no condition to carry out difficult tasks, but Max explains that they concocted a plan to murder the man directly responsible for killing their families, an SS officer living in North America.
“You must do what you said you would,” Max says to Zev.
Zev – without all of his faculties but armed with a Glock (which he carries in his toiletry kit) – embarks on his mission in the dimming twilight of his life. Director Atom Egoyan delivers a stressful and intriguing thriller and deliberately moves the main plot thread at a senior citizen-like pace, while Zev leads the one-man manhunt. Now, when Zev falters – at times – due to his current mental and physical limitations, the movie places high anxiety on the audience. He demonstrates some moments of clarity, but the threat of another bout with dementia-induced amnesia always seems present. For instance, after waking up from a brief nap in a nondescript hotel, he calls for his wife, looks around the room and does not recognize where he is, or – more importantly – why he is staying in an unexceptional lodging in another part of the country.
Thankfully, Max wrote down precise instructions about (and reasons for) his assignment, as well as the passing of Ruth. Not unlike Leonard (Guy Pearce) in Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece “Memento” (2000), Zev has to reread written notes on his hand or Max’s letter, and his short-term memory only seems fine until his next nap or night of sleep. With more terribly-forgetful moments just over the horizon, the audience realizes that the overall narrative could turn south in a hurry, because a sometimes-confused, elderly man with a loaded Glock – on a murderous assignment – carries the potential for accidental, fatal mistakes.
Egoyan does not make the mistake of overlooking the need for intriguing supporting players in this character-driven movie. For example, during Zev’s journey, he connects in a grandfatherly way with a smart 10 year-old boy on a train but also confronts some shocking anti-Semitism from another character who – at first – one would least suspect it. This assignment is a brand new experience for Zev, and we, the audience, undergo some surprises along the way too, and Plummer is terrific in a complex role. He successfully balances the makeup of a man who carries apprehension, stout determination, sorrow, and unsettled confusion, and my eyeballs were glued to every subtle movement that Plummer’s Zev made.
Max – who is only a phone call away – makes himself available and armed Zev with strategically-placed transportation, lodging and cash to help carry out their plan. As long as the explanatory letter is within Zev’s grasp, they have a chance to right an inhuman wrong committed seven decades earlier. “Remember” presents a sobering reminder that time – even 70 years – does not heal all wounds and forgetting only temporarily helps.
Image credits: A24; Trailer credits: Movieclips Film Festivals & Indie Films (YouTube)