Through his video installations, Omer Fast has focused on the recreation of all kinds of existing footage in order to suggest the power and limitations of art to interpret memory and history. So it’s fitting that his first fiction feature is an adaptation of Tom McCarthy’s 2005 novel Remainder, which revolves around an unnamed Londoner who becomes obsessed with reconstructing events from the past he barely remembers. The film, which proffers a Memento-like mystery with a twist seemingly out of Synecdoche, New York, is Fast’s depiction of a man’s war against the fog of his traumatized mind.
Within the film’s first two minutes, Tom (Tom Sturridge) is hit on the head by a black box and lands in a coma. Upon walking up, and with a $10 million settlement at his disposal, he’s propelled to buy a whole London apartment block because of his vague memory of a white apartment building; he even hires people to play his neighbors, directing them to repeat the same everyday tasks seemingly ad infinitum. But he pushes this obsession further: hiring a woman to come to his apartment every night to act out the same scene; getting himself tasered in order to reenact the murder of a key acquaintance near a telephone booth; and going so far as to build a massive set on a soundstage in order to recreate a bank robbery that may hold a key to what immediately led up to his accident.
Through all these efforts, Tom exhibits a mania for absolute precision, often becoming irrationally angry when an actor doesn’t recite a line the way he demands, or when one small detail doesn’t conform to what he imagines in his mind. In this, he may remind one of filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick and David Fincher known for their fastidious attention to detail and martinet control. As such, the film suggests an allegory for a certain kind of artistic creation, one more interested in exactitude than spontaneity.
But more than being an analogue for the moviemaking process, Tom’s behavior is an existential grappling with his identity as a human being. It’s detective procedural as psychological surgery, though Fast is more interested in the philosophical implications of his protagonist’s quest than in neatly solving any puzzles. There’s always a sliver of doubt as to the veracity of what Tom supposedly remembers, thereby lending the film a disquieting layer of ambiguity, the suspicion that Tom is expending all this money and energy on trying to find answers that may potentially be forever outside his reach. By the time he’s finally circled back to where his trauma began, Remainder still offers no sense of resolution, depicting only a lost soul who’s doomed himself to be forever trapped in his own mental Möbius strip.