Remember stars Chrisopher Plummer as Zev, a recently widowed Auschwitz survivor living in a retirement home in the early stages of Alzheimer's. Every time he wakes he is reminded of his wife’s passing. Martin Landau plays another Auschwitz survivor named Max who is bound to a wheelchair, sharing the retirement home. After the funeral of Zev's wife, Max reminds Zev of the promise he made to finally seek revenge on the Nazi who killed their families then escaped to North America under an alias, never to be tried for his crimes. There are four citizens living with the same name, so Zev has to seek out each one and thumb the right one.
What is expected to be a sad, dramatic movie about survivors is actually an intense thriller with the almost 90-year-old Plummer playing a gun-wielding man with Alzheimer's. The impeccable script is second only to Christopher Plummer's acting. While the film captures the historic cataclysm of the Holocaust, at its core it's an action movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat about this incredibly complex, true-to-his-word character getting the closure and revenge an entire population of Jewish people never received. BUST sat down with the director Atom Egoyan, to talk about the movie, working with Christopher Plummer, ism’s of Hollywood, and why our favorite movies of the year don’t always get the awards they deserve.
Courtney Bissonette: This was an amazing movie that deviates from any movie with an older cast that I've ever seen. Did you have problems getting a movie made with a cast over the age of 80.
Atom Egoyan: Yeah, I mean there are the obvious issues of marketing that and trying to communicate that it is a very new and unusual approach. Also, there is an urgency that this is the last generation of survivors and perpetrators that are still amongst us. In five, ten years this story might not be told. It might become a period piece. So that was one of the reasons I felt so passionate about this. It's also a film that functions as a thriller in a way so you want to be able to let people understand that it's not a film that is a conventional drama even though you think you're understanding it that way. Even though you think you are watching this person that you think you might have seen before, I can assure you that you've never met someone like Zev. I mean there's not really any precedent in any novel or film that I've seen. It's difficult because you can't convey where the film is going without giving it away and that's one of the most powerful moments in the film, but I think you spend a great deal of time thinking that you know who he is and you understand quite radically that you don't.
CB: Not only have I never met a character like Zev, I've never seen a movie that fits this genre that I know of and I think it's so interesting because I definitely thought it would be more dramatic and more emotional but I did not expect it to be such so suspenseful and such an action film. And for a 90-year-old to be a gun-toting...
AE: Right but then I think there are a lot of the issues that that raises while you're watching it. I think Max, played by Martin Landau, is the person who drives the film and has this plan. But, certainly, Zev is the person who's very good at following orders in many ways but is also playing without subtext. I mean that is what makes the performance so radical. I think most of the time, when you have actors there is some other agenda they are playing to, but he is not. Because of his early stages Alzheimer's he can only be in the present even though we come to understand that he is holding a tremendous amount of history and that history has a tremendous impact. It is very, very suspenseful you think you are watching one story and then you are watching a completely different story reveal itself.
CB: Why do you think Hollywood is so against putting older actors as the main characters? I feel like we are seeing it a little bit more. And almost every movie that I can think of gets acclaim for it but I still think that they are just so keen to putting younger people in roles, and I think we need to preserve the Greatest Generation as long as we can if it's through movies.
AE: Absolutely. What I find surprising is that there is no problem marketing older actors on stage. People revere to see and to have that tradition played out on Broadway but there seems to be a disconnect in terms of filmmaking and it has to do with marketing I suppose. There is this perception that a younger actor is more marketable and that's even more of a case with female actors, I think. But it was interesting when we were casting for Chloe, for instance, and we were looking for actresses of a certain age. It's amazing how many great actresses you have to choose from. I mean it's quite amazing and they're just not working the way they should be and the roles are not being generated.They are interestingly enough on television now—and I think that that is actually one of the things that speak so strongly of this renaissance—that there don't seem to be the same challenges in marketing those types of characters for a series. I think we are still so caught up in traditional forms of marketing feature films and it seems a bit antiquated doesn't it? Feels like a holdover from another period.
CB: I hope this is an example of what's to come because I've never seen a 90-year-old in an action role you almost forget that he is 90—age has nothing to do with it, almost.
AE: And yet he is moving like a 90-year-old and that is what is kind of amazing about the film is that it has this tension and yet it can't be played with the same physical speed that a younger person would play. That is part of its fascination, is that you are aware of the genre that you are aspiring to, yet it can't inflict that upon the viewer with the same vehemence or speed. I think that is one of the more darkly humorous aspects of the film. You know that if it were a younger character the film would be moving a certain way but it doesn't and it resists that and it tries to remain true to that. It creates this odd additional kind of tension which is not what you would expect.
CB: I saw the movie just before the Oscar nominations were announced, and the entire time watching it I thought, "If this doesn't get a nod..."
AE: Well it was a tough year. I think everyone was expecting Michael Caine to get a nomination for Youth or Ian McKellen to get one for Holmes. It's interesting when discussing discrimination, but maybe there is also another type of discrimination that nobody is talking about.
CB: Being an Academy member, do you have any inkling as to how they get chosen?
AE: It's about people getting a chance to see the film. As an Academy member, I can tell you one is overwhelmed with DVD's and there are tons of stuff to go through and if you haven't heard about the film when you get the DVD's it's very difficult to organize your time. You aren't going to be able to watch everything so it all comes down to promotion. We made the decision to wait for the release because honestly, I think we were expecting to get that attention, but it's just the nature of the game.
Remember comes out Friday, March 11th and will opening at Lincoln Plaza Cinema and the Angelika.
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Courtney Bissonette is a New York based writer and improv comedienne. She writes primarily about movies, pop cultures and feminist heroes. She gets along best with old people. She has seen more old movies than your grandma, probably. Salt from Salt n Pepa once took her Trick'r Treating. You can follow her on instagram at @gddamnitcourtney or twitter @courttette