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New Release Review - REMAINDER

An amnesia victim pumps his compensation money into elaborately recreating his memories.





Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Omer Fast

Starring: Tom Sturridge, Cush Jumbo, Ed Speleers, Arsher Ali



For most of its running time we're witnessing a protagonist attempt to deconstruct and reassemble a narrative, and while this may test the patience of casual viewers, anyone with a passing interest in the mechanics of storytelling will find Fast's debut a fascinating and immersive watch.



Video artists rarely make the transition to narrative cinema - chiefly because potential investors are understandably intimidated by the idea of 'art for art's sake' - but in recent years we've seen Sam Taylor Johnson and Steve McQueen break through that glass ceiling to prove themselves as capable of mainstream storytelling as any 'safer' journeymen directors. Now Israeli visual artist Omer Fast follows their lead, though his debut (which opens with the literal smashing of a glass ceiling) - an adaptation of Tom McCarthy's 2005 novel Remainder - may have a story and a recognisable plot, but it's very much an arthouse effort.


The film follows Tom (Tom Sturridge), who awakens in a hospital bed months after being knocked out and almost killed by a piece of falling debris on a London street. The bad news is he can't recall a thing. The good news is his bank balance is £8.5 million healthier, thanks to a compensation settlement from the negligent party responsible for his accident. Tom returns home to meet Catherine (Cush Jumbo), an American woman who claims to be his girlfriend, and Greg (Ed Speelers), who apparently is his best friend, despite being Catherine's ex-husband.

It soon becomes clear that Tom's past may involve some murky dealings - a pair of heavies pester him for the whereabouts of a mysterious suitcase; Catherine and Greg initiate conversations that Tom swears he's already participated in; he seems to be on first name terms with the local drug dealers that hang around a phone booth on the corner of his street. Snippets of memories begin to penetrate his mind - a mysterious old residential building, whose inhabitants include an old woman who fries liver, a Chopin loving pianist and a young boy who receives a 50 pence coin from Tom.


Determined to make sense of these apparent fragments of a past life, Tom pumps his millions into hiring Naz (Arsher Ali), a no questions asked 'fixer' who locates the building from Tom's memory and fills it with a cast of actors assigned the roles of its half remembered residents. As Tom's expensive stagings of his memories become more elaborate, he becomes increasingly demanding, like some tyrannical movie director, to the point where his recreations begin to dangerously bleed into and shape reality.

Remainder owes much to films like Christopher Nolan's Memento, Michaelangelo Antonioni's Blow Up and its unofficial Brian de Palma remake Blow Out. For most of its running time we're witnessing a protagonist attempt to deconstruct and reassemble a narrative, and while this may test the patience of casual viewers, anyone with a passing interest in the mechanics of storytelling will find Fast's debut a fascinating and immersive watch.

The dead-eyed Sturridge (who caught our attention in last year's Far from the Madding Crowd) makes for a perfect amnesia victim, his blank canvas expression betraying the lack of emotion symptomatic of a man practically born yesterday.


There appears to be some sly commentary on gentrification here. Rather than getting to know the actual tenants of the building of his memory, who you imagine might be able to fill in his blank spots, Tom has them turfed out and replaced with actors. Is it his actual past he's attempting to recreate, or is he more interested in fashioning a custom made future?

Thanks to an elliptical structure much like Shane Carruth's Upstream Color, Remainder's ending will have you returning to the its beginning as, much like its protagonist, you conduct your own search for clues within its deceptive narrative.

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