If a person is the sum of their memories and experiences, some are more defining than others; for modelmaker Sam Bloom it is the night he went drinking with his musician brother Dash, singing together as they drove home and straight into the side of another vehicle. He remembers staggering through the woods afterwards, calling for help, but the dying words of his brother are lost in the trauma of the event.
A radical new approach to the treatment of such trauma, inventor Gordon Dunn confidently explains the theory behind the Rememory machine to his audience, that rather than talking about a long ago half remembered incident overwritten by years of emotional weight it will allow a person to access the original underlying core memory and obtain mastery over it, but behind the scenes he expresses concerns about possible dangers to his business partner.
Attending the launch, Sam is unable to approach Dunn but is witness to a confrontation with a former patient, and when Dunn is found dead in his offices soon after an opportunity presents itself for Sam to befriend his widow, Carolyn, who wishes nothing to do with the technology; realising it will not be missed, Sam appropriates the Rememory machine and all of Dunn’s records and begins piecing together the histories of his test patients.
Directed by Mark Palansky from a script co-written with Michael Vukadinovich, Rememory is an elegantly realised and ambitious science fiction drama, a well-conceived whodunnit built around a technology which would revolutionise the world were it to exist, physical recording of memory, allowing endless re-experiencing of the highlights of a life well lived or their darkest moments, implied to be apparently indisputable as evidence.
But it is also a house of cards which could tumble with a single harsh breath, as Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage inveigles his way into the lives of strangers under a series of created identities, posing as old friends of the family or in an official capacity. Pushing the bluff as far as he can as he recreates the evening leading up to Dunn’s presumed murder, it is a ruse which requires one to be unobtrusive, yet Dinklage cannot be other than a person who sticks in the memory.
Creating a palace of other people’s memories, Sam manages to get an awful lot of work done before anyone notices the machine is missing despite it being a prototype desperately needed by Dunn’s impatient partner, just one of many persons of interest in a film which lines up suspects and motives as swiftly as the dinner guests of Clue even as it echoes another classic of the eighties, Douglas Trumbull’s Brainstorm.
Despite this, carried by Dinklage’s sensitive and understated performance, he is well matched with The East‘s Julia Ormond as the vulnerable Carolyn Dunn, both struggling with loss and in need of comfort and understanding, even from a stranger, and the film considers the ethics of therapy and the responsibility of therapists, that treatment is far from a “one size fits all” process, Dunn accused of negligence by the deeply traumatised Todd (Star Trek Beyond‘s much-missed Anton Yelchin in one of his final roles).
Perhaps skewed by being principally set in a world of research scientists and doctors and their wealthy patients, Sam and Todd are the only characters in the film who could be considered working class, and seeming more like an upmarket advertising campaign for white middle class family holidays than genuine lives after a while the memories become suffocating in their blandness, the catharsis promised by Dunn unlikely when the only confrontation is with such sanitised privilege built on improbable lies.