“What are our lives but a collection of memories?”
We are made up of our memories, these mysterious, intangible things that make us who we are, and movies like Memento, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Dark City, Blade Runner and Total Recall all seek to examine the fascinating phenomenon of human memory. Mark Palansky’s Rememory is the latest to attempt the same, but with significantly less success.
Peter Dinklage is… no, wait. Let’s not start with Peter Dinklage. He’s the star of the movie but his character is nearly impossible to explain. Martin Donovan is Gordon Dunn, an innovative scientist who has invented a way to physically extract memories from his patients. He is then able to show the patients their most traumatic memories, with an intended therapeutic effect. But after Dunn is found dead in his office under mysterious circumstances, his widow Carolyn (Julia Ormond) meets a former friend of Dunn’s. Enter Dinklage, who plays a model maker named Sam Bloom, but who introduces himself under different names throughout the film. He feels an unnamed obligation to Dunn, and sets out to uncover the mystery surrounding his death, using his own extracted memories and his, well, his model sets. It’s a bit confusing.
There’s a fairly trackable mystery under all of these plot details, but what could be a tight caper is drowned in sentimentality and shoddy sci-fi. Every time someone references the device Dunn uses to extract memories, they just call it “the machine.” That feels about right for Rememory, a movie that is utterly bereft of specificity. Much of the vagueness is in service of the mystery, but the pay-off, such as it is, offers no satisfaction.
It’s a shame, because Dinklage is doing some great work here. Bloom is suffering the loss of his brother, and it’s colored his life in insurmountable ways. His grief equips him to connect with Carolyn in a way no one else can since Gordon has died, and Ormond and Dinklage have a powerful platonic chemistry that makes their scenes far more interesting than they likely read on the page. They’re wry and vulnerable together, sharing a warmth that no one else can offer them in their loneliness.
Some of the ideas are interesting here, and they’re visually represented in interesting ways. As arbitrary as Sam’s model-making feels from a narrative standpoint, it does make for a compelling way to watch him sort out the mystery of Dunn’s final hours and the damaged people who surrounded him. As we get glimpses of his patients’ extracted memories, they offer a beautiful tableau of impressions – a hand lights a cigarette, a mother comforts her son – but Rememory makes the mistake of showing the actual synapses sparking all over these lovely impressions, taking something pretty and making it silly.
That’s a lot of Rememory: maudlin meets kinda dumb. If it weren’t for Dinklage’s remarkable performance, the film would have very little to recommend it. As it is, it feels like a waste that one of his first big-screen leading roles is in this particular picture.