Remember full movie review - Holocaust survivor avenges murdered family
In the first shot of Atom Egoyan's Remember, Zev awakens to a memory of his dead wife. In the last scene he awakens to a completely suppressed reality. He is not the Jewish survivor we (and he) think he is but himself a Nazi concentration camp killer.
The closing scene redefines the revenge plot. Instead of a Jew avenging his family, the Nazi hiding behind a Jewish identity kills his evil comrade and then himself ? doubly completing his mission. Here the hunter as well as the hunted exposes his suppressed identity. Zev proves a "wolf" in sheep's clothing, pretending to be his erstwhile prey.
For the bulk of the film Zev personifies the struggle never to forget the horrors of the Holocaust and to sustain the commitment to bring the evil to justice and to honour the memory of the dead. As his memory drifts in and out, Zev needs his friend Max's letter of detailed instruction to keep him on track. Ironically, a sweet little American blonde (total it Aryan) little girl reads the letter aloud to him, to recover his purpose. The pathos of an old man losing his wife, then his memory, supports the larger theme of historical remembrance.
With the conclusion, the theme shifts from the importance of remembering the Holocaust to the importance of remembering one's own identity, one's own responsibility for that horror. Ultimately the film's subject goes beyond the loss of memory, as portrayed in Zev's dementia, to the willful forgetting of the past, especially one's own. The title, which we don't get until the end, enjoins us to remember what we are as well as the enormity of what has happened. More broadly, we all have to remember the evil of which we may well be capable. The dark side of human nature is not just in others.
Once we've seen the twist we can find its earlier preparation. Zev plays Wagner more comfortably than he plays the Jewish-born Mendelssohn and he admits to loving Wagner. "How can you hate music?" he asks. Well, for starters, when that music has been used to orchestrate the genocide of your people. A Jew would feel that.
Zev also shows a surprising efficiency with his Glock, killing an attacking German shepherd (i.e., dog) and then dispatching the modern Nazi ? a state trooper, aptly enough ? with two effective shots, one to the heart, one to the head. These reflexes confirm the conversion of avenging Jew to hidden Nazi. Zev's reflex fear of German shepherds may cohere with his Jewish pose, but it's also true to the old man's fragility and the fear that makes him hate shouting and wet his pants on the trooper's couch. Any old man fears tyranny, regardless of race, religion, colour or creed.
As exposing the truth is healthy, the cab that brings Zev to his climactic exposure is Merck ? the German (of course) pharmaceutical company. If the ultimate revelations traumatize the two Nazi officers' unsuspecting American families, they still get off more lightly than their respective fathers' Auschwitz victims. Max, immobile and constantly on his oxygen, turns out to be the master planner and angel of justice. It turns out he recognized Zev as the brutal Nazi and exploited his dementia to send him and his old mate to justice.
The trooper reminds us that antisemitism remains a powerful force in the world, in North America and certainly across Europe. A Nazi rural cop points to the institutionalized bigotry even in Obama's America. Egoyan, of course, is not Jewish. But he is an Armenian acutely aware of the massacre of his people and its obscuring in time and by the aggressors' twisting of history. The historic tragedy that the Jews and Armenians have shared lies at the heart of Remember. We all need to both remember the history and reject the lies that would replace it.