Remainder (2015)

What if you couldn’t remember your past and you tried to recreate it? Omar Fast’s visually stunning debut Remainder is a compulsively mind-bending puzzle.

The Persistence of Memory

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

In London’s business district, a smartly dressed young man (Tom Sturridge) crosses the road and turns to look at the suitcase he’s forgotten on the other side. A split second later, in freak accident, a block of concrete falls from a tall building out of the sky onto his head. When he wakes from near-death and coma, he’s physically and mentally damaged, and his memory of his life before the accident has gone. After receiving £8.5 million in compensation, he uses the power that the money gives him to try to recreate his memory and construct a sense of his own character from the fragments he has left – an image of a building, a boy’s hand reaching to him, cats on a roof, the smell of liver frying. He hires an events producer Naz (Arsher Ali) to find the location and actors to play the parts of the people he thinks he saw there. He obsessively makes them repeat the scene over and over again until he feels he has got the minutest details accurate in the hope that it will trigger a memory and reconnect him with his sense of self and with the rest of the world.

Israeli video artist Omer Fast has adapted Tom McCarthy’s cult novel, Remainder for his feature film debut into a visually stunning mixture of mind-bending puzzle and stylish thriller. Who is Catherine (Cush Jumbo), the American woman who reappears after a long absence? What is her relationship with him and with his friend Greg (Ed Speleers)? Are the two men following him killers or detectives? Or both? As time passes, Sturridge, the still-unnamed protagonist, heals physically and becomes more autocratic with his actors, until his recreation starts to blur dangerously with creation. He gets a huge replica of a bank and its interior built that’s so accurate that when he takes his actors there, they don’t realise it’s real.

Influences that Fast cites are Chris Marker’s science fiction La Jetée, Pierre Huyghe’s video installation The Third Memory and Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket. You could say it’s also television series London Spy meets Christopher Nolan’s Inception and maybe Alain Resnais’ Last Year in Marienbad and Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys. Grant Gee’s Orhan Pamuk adaptation Innocence of Memories has also been mooted. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not original. In its theme, there are parallels to be made with the role of the filmmaker in recreating reality. It’s strange, it’s dreamlike, intriguing and alluring.

There’s an excellent performance by Tom Sturridge, as he develops from damaged survivor barely able to hold a pen or have a conversation to unreasonable dictator to a kind of realisation, and by Ali as he stoically caters to Sturridge’s every apparently inexplicable whim. In the ultimately circular space between truth and artifice, the spell Fast casts on his material remains unbroken and it stays with you long after the film ends.

Remainder is released in the UK and on demand on 24 June.

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