If the attributes cold, callous and conceited might not conjure up the image of the most watchable of film heroes, Tom Sturridge’s nameless character in video artist Omer Fast’s feature debut Remainder might strike some as a slight surprise.
Adapted from Tom McCarthy’s cult novel of the same title, Remainder is an intriguing drama of identity and memory with enough thriller elements to keep you wanting to watch more even when the events portrayed become part of a seemingly never-ending repetitive loop. Reminiscent in its basic premise of Nolan’s Memento, and in its reality-fantasy blurring strategy of Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York, the film follows a 30-something London professional who receives an exorbitant amount of money in compensation after becoming the victim of an arcane accident that leaves him emotionally shattered and mentally tabula rasa.
With £10 million in the bank and a completely clear conscience as a result of his traumatic memory loss, what does our hero set out to do? Book a flight to an exotic island and live a life of utter indulgence in a state of blissful oblivion, the kind of oblivion that alcohol, sex and drugs, our culture’s panacea, will never be able to induce? No, what kind of film would that be? Instead, in philosophically appropriate fashion, our hero responds to a most powerful inner urge that compels him to find out who he is, an action echoing the ancient adage nosce the ipsum that posits the source of all happiness as lying, irrevocably, in self-knowledge. Using his new wealth and one feeble, fragmentary memory he still detains, that of a small boy at the top of the stairs in an old house reaching out his hand to an old lady on the floor below, the hero goes about his trauma in the most extravagant fashion: he acquires an entire block of apartments and populates it with actors, cats and other such props in order to physically restage the scene again and again and hopefully trigger a more substantial memory that will “cure” his identity loss.
But as every cinema-literate person knows, it’s not about what a character does, but what his actions mean. And the character’s actions in Remainder can mean a lot of things, the film being conceptually very rich. Conceptual without being dry though: the film tackles trauma, mediation, repetition, re-enactment, the unreal nature of reality, even issues of gentrification, with much humour and irony. Visually, it is a real feast: the director’s artful sense of framing, ironic mise-en-scène and the ephemeral beauty of the shallow focus alluding to a character who completely fails to see the bigger picture, make for a very polished, very accomplished first feature.
Remainder is playing today, March 22nd, at New Directors New Films in New York.