Can memories be trusted to document the past? Visual artist Omar Fast’s ambitious debut Remainder, an adaptation of Tom McCarthy’s eponymous novel questions the limitations of art as a tool to interpret history. Combining the devious logic of its source material with a stand-out performance by Tom Sturridge, Remainder presents the filmmaking process as an act of remembering. Fast’s debut views remembering as a dangerous activity, a form of closed thinking that blurs the line between the real-world and the imagined one.
After a life-threatening blow to the head from an unidentified falling piece of debris, Tom (Sturridge) awakens from a coma to find his lawyer has won him a sizeable settlement of around £8 million. There’s only one condition; that he forgets what happened. That’s not a problem as Tom has no memory of the incident. However, as time passes he grows frustrated by his inability to remember what happened, and decides to use his new-found wealth to piece together his past by orchestrating a re-enactment of his memories. He hires a producer to turn these hazy memories into something more tangible, buying an entire apartment block to stage this elaborate reconstruction and employing a team of actors to play his former neighbors.
Tom’s attempts to piece together the jigsaw of his amnesia doesn’t go unnoticed, and the project soon becomes threatened by an unknown pair of hitman. These artificial reconstructions of Tom’s memories form a closed-circuit narrative malodorous with memory and the elusiveness of the truth. Tom’s re-enactments begin to take the form of a regimented theatre show and as each performance becomes more realistic, reality becomes harder to identify. This sense of disorientation is enhanced by production designer Adrian Smith, whose beautifully rendered dioramas of Tom’s mind are perfectly calibrated to the strange dreamlike space between the real and the remembered. Sturridge inhabits this staged reality with aplomb, his vulnerability and constant disengagement with the outside world forcing the audience to search beneath the masonry of his consciousness and join him as he patrols the borders of his thoughts.
Our protagonist walks a tightrope between the past and the present, like a soul caught between two bodies, a sensation emphasised beautifully by cinematographer Lukas Strebel who incorporates shallow focus to blind the audience to the bigger picture. As Tom develops into the director of his own past the film expands into a broader allegory for the creative process, asking questioning about cinematic representations of reality and exploring the conflict between history and memory. An ambitious and exacting debut, Remainder is one sci-fi thriller audiences with struggle to forget.
Patrick Gamble | @PatrickJGamble