Smartphones and social media have enabled us to record and remember our experiences more easily, and much science fiction of late—from Black Mirror to, now, Mark Palansky’s affecting techno-thriller Rememory—has begun to imagine the repercussions. The Rememory device at this film’s center can record one’s memories—unshaped and unprocessed, as objective as photojournalism—onto glass slides (an old-school indulgence) that, like vitreous flash drives, can then be watched on a portable player. In short, video is memory, and memory is video. Throughout, the film explores the cultural, philosophical, and psychological implications of such technology by using it as the jumping-off point for an alluring murder mystery.
Sam Bloom (Peter Dinklage) builds architectural models when he’s not brooding over the death of his rockstar brother, Dash (Matt Ellis). Shortly after the accident that cost Dash his life, Sam meets the Rememory machine’s inventor, Gordon Dunn (Martin Donovan), and credits the encounter with saving him from suicide. When Gordon is found dead in his office, cause unknown, Sam investigates the case and its emotional fallout, manipulating Gordon’s widow (Julia Ormond), stealing the only Rememory prototype, digging through test subjects’ slides to find and interview them, all while willfully failing to confront his own past. (Flashbacks here aren’t merely a formal device, but an inherent part of Rememory, which is essentially a flashback machine.) Sam is this future-noir’s self-made detective, digging through scraps of psychic fragments to piece together a mystery, as well as a somber Virgil, guiding us through a hell-on-Earth of guilt, regret, and tragedy.
The film’s expository speeches posit our lives as a sum of memories, first-person images of natural wonders, loved ones’ faces, frying bacon, and sizzling eggs. Palansky posits that our lives are inherently cinematographic, defined by impossibly beautifully framed and focused pictures, edited together like Terrence Malick reveries. This may initially seem dubious and superficial, as the totality of our lives also includes the things we made and the people we helped—cumulative effects, not just individual moments. But the film successfully argues that it’s through sensory details that we access the deeper aspects of our lives, the image serving as a gateway to emotional truth. Rememory does something like what method actors do with sense-memory techniques: summon details to refeel the feelings. In the film, people become audiences to their own (and others’) lived experiences.
The most troubled of these people is Todd, devastatingly played by the late Anton Yelchin, in one of his last performances. Todd witnessed a harrowing event and suppressed its memory, but the Rememory machine forces him to remember, to re-experience the event, destroying his life. As played by Yelchin, the man looks feral and unhappy. Indeed, the state of Todd’s life brings out the darkest side of Rememory, which creates for its users a conflict between experiences themselves and the narratives we selectively, unconsciously construct from them. We tell ourselves those stories in order to live—as in, survive. The film understands that we bury things because, like its characters, we’re usually our happiest, our most alive, when we’re forgetting.