It really must require a considerable amount of effort to take a premise as deliciously high-concept as the one found in Rememory and transform it into such vapid, self-serious drivel. Consider the implications of a device, like the one seen here, that can extract the memories of its users perfectly intact, allowing anyone to comb through their recollections without the impediments of personal bias or natural forgetfulness. Imagine the creator of that device found mysteriously dead, and a guilt-ridden amateur sleuth investigating his untimely demise. Imagine all of this, and then forget it. The reality is, after all, never quite as compelling as the imaginary.
Gordon Dunn (Martin Donovan) is the mind behind this device; a mild-mannered scientist-psychologist whose machine accesses the subconscious of his patients to “objectively” – his own word – replay memories that they have distorted or suppressed. It’s a revolutionary form of treatment for the traumatised and unstable, and a conceptually audacious hook for a psychological whodunit, especially after Dunn is found dead in his office shortly after unveiling the prototype. His friend, Sam Bloom (Peter Dinklage), a model-maker who is crippled by guilt after causing a car crash that resulted in the death of his rock-singer brother (Matt Ellis), begins his own investigation into the skulduggery surrounding Dunn’s death and device; spurred on by his own need for closure, and his fear that any blemish on Dunn’s legacy might damage his tech company, Cortex, which is being run by a nakedly sinister British executive (Henry Ian Cusick) whose beard gives away his moral allegiance long before the plot does.
Sam’s haphazard detective work includes him befriending Dunn’s widow, Carolyn (Julia Ormund), stealing the memory-transcribing gizmo, visiting Dunn’s various prospective patients and fragile case studies – including one played, briefly, by the late Anton Yelchin – and repeatedly lying about his identity and intentions. From the jolting car accident that the movie opens with to each stage of his gradually-complicating and heavily contrived gumshoeing, Sam is so distinctly unlikeable, so obviously deceptive, that in a film like this, built around the untrustworthiness of one’s memory, he’s as responsible for the swerves of the narrative as he was the fatal final swerves of his brother’s life.
Rememory is co-written and directed by Mark Palansky, whose writing is littered with sophomoric meditations on the nature of memory – such hokey soundbites as, “We only know the true value of a moment when it becomes a memory,” which means absolutely nothing. There are many big ideas here, but none that a rational person would have, and the central thesis, that of there being a fundamental disconnect between how people see themselves and how other people actually see them, is never properly examined. Rememory’s plot is as amateurish as Sam’s investigating, and despite a committed and sincere performance from Dinklage, they’re both as boring as each other.
All this is vaguely reminiscent of a particularly cautionary episode of the British science-fiction series Black Mirror, in which people wore implanted chips that allowed them to record and play back their memories. The show used the technology to explore the destructive desire to witness the memories – some of them illicit, private – of a lover. Rememory mostly uses the same conceit to fracture the film into prettified fragments of emotionless flashback. There should be a vicarious pleasure to Sam sifting through the lives of his suspects, or at least an unsettling voyeuristic twinge. But the characters are only valuable to Sam as delivery mechanisms for the plot; their backstories occasionally trigger a slightly different expression from Dinklage – his default is one of heavy-eyed sorrow – but these are soulless automatons, their emotionality triggered by the fizzing of hidden live wires.
In Rememory, footage is recorded directly from users’ brains, and as one watches it, they assume the position of the person revisiting the past. They can trawl first-person through birthday parties, exotic getaways, moments of intimacy and fury between loved ones. Sam does all this, drifting through Dunn’s patients’ moments of reflection, none of which are particularly provocative. He steps into these lives, and observes them so minutely that he scarcely leaves a footprint. Rememory is much the same way. It’ll leave no lasting impression on your memory; it’ll exist for a time, with the wavering impermanence of a bad dream or a drunken kiss, and then it’ll fizzle away into nothingness.
If it’s any consolation, it isn’t worth remembering anyway.
Enjoyed reading this review? Then you will probably like listening to us too, so check out our podcast.