Even when you’re as legendary and accomplished an actor as Christopher Plummer is there are certain themes you may be loath to revisit if it mirrors a bit too closely to one of your more famous roles. In Remember Christopher Plummer plays Zev Guttman, a Holocaust survivor living in a nursing home whom has just lost his wife and is dealing with dementia. Now entering a new stage of his life he can embark on his mission to avenge the death of his family at Auschwitz.
When the material is good enough and you feel it has something to say, the director you’ll be working with is acclaimed (as Atom Egoyan is), you will gladly participate in a film that may appear to share superficial themes (Nazism and World War II) to a film in your past you can’t seem to outrun (The Sound of Music). Furthermore, when you have over 200 credits to your name, and are in your late eighties (an age bracket that may as well not exist as a consideration in mainstream films) you may not be too picky. However, as some of Plummer’s more recent films like Beginners show he’s not just agreeing to a project because he read a script as some actors over a certain age may appear to.
What is the most notable in this film is that Plummer is not merely the elder statesman in an otherwise youthful cast. Quite on the contrary Remember features impressive performances from fellow octogenarian Martin Landau and septuagenarian Bruno Ganz, and features but a brief supporting turn by the prodigious and prolific young actor Peter Dacunha. Not only are the older actors great but they feature prominently in the film. However, the film as opposed to the pre-packaged film for the older set it is one about characters and plot considerations that are specific, and can communicate to audiences of all ages due to the use of expertly employed suspenseful set pieces.
While much of film acting is the ability to recreate emotional notes many times over owing to the need to shoot coverage, much of a film like Remember wherein a character must reabsorb givens as if it is entirely new information asks much more from an actor, director, and editor than a conventionally constructed film. In this film Plummer has to not only emote to have us engage in the repeated loss of his wife but also on more than one occasion have us fear that his only purpose left — as he sees it — will fail because he has either forgotten about the letter that now defines his reality or because in his travels it has become illegible.
While a protagonist going brazenly into random encounters with other men of a certain age and asking them they are German, were at Auschwitz, and a blockführer does allow for a quiet thrum of tension throughout; there are moments of unexpected pathos. Zev has but a name (Rudy Kurlander) and a location to find each of the man who could be responsible for killing his family. One of the men has a number tattooed on his arm, which catches Zev by surprise.
At that moment Zev breaks down in tears, feeling remorse and offering his condolence. It’s a wonderful moment of empathy that is but an example of how this is a more layered emotional experience than one might expect going into it.
There is a huge revelation that I will not spoil but it is the commitment to a performance that allows it to work. When the film is over and consider things in hindsight you will note the clues were there all along, but you didn’t even realize you should have been looking for them.
This film was distributed by A24 who is a company willing to go outside the norms and push the envelope even where we weren’t aware it should be pushed even lightly. It is available to stream for Amazon Prime subscribers and is worth checking out.