Monday, March 15, 2010
While it might have initially seemed like Robert Pattinson's latest movie, 'Remember Me,' would be generating controversy and debate over whether it proves that the 'Twilight' star has real acting chops, it has actually caused a big stir among critics and audiences because of its incredibly dramatic (and some feel overwrought) final minutes.
Its big twist seems to be overshadowing the rest of the picture for some and is undoubtedly drawing attention away from the fact that, despite its low 27% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the film features solid performances from Pattinson and co-star Emilie de Ravin ('Lost').
(SPOILER ALERT! If you have not seen the film and do not want to know the ending, read no further as the climax is revealed and discussed in detail below.)
In the film, Pattinson plays Tyler, a troubled NYU student who lives in a grungy Manhattan apartment despite coming from an affluent home. He is coping with the loss of his older brother, who committed suicide, and when he meets a fellow student named Ally (de Ravin), who saw her mother gunned down by a mugger when she was 5, he finds an equally damaged soulmate. The two both have family issues to contend with -- her overprotective cop father (Chris Cooper), his emotionally estranged lawyer father (Pierce Brosnan) -- as well as the fact Tyler dated Ally initially on a mean-spirited dare from an obnoxious friend (which blows up in his face when he actually falls for her).
By the climax of the film, a lot of family bonding has ensued, and the two lovers have started to heal the rift between them. Then, when Tyler is waiting for his father in his law office (on their own way to making amends), we see him looking out of the window, hopefully. The camera cranes back, and we see that Tyler's standing in one of The World Trade Center's Twin Towers. It's then spelled out -- literally, on a chalkboard in his little sister's classroom -- that the date is Sept. 11, 2001, and it's obvious what's going to happen next. When the devastation comes, it is implied rather than graphically depicted. Still, the event packs 'Remember Me' with a big wallop that has infuriated some viewers and moved others.
Critics have vastly different opinions about the film's jarring denouement:
Rolling Stone's Peter Travers declared in his capsule review: "It's all weepy drool until the twist ending, which is shockingly offensive."
Lisa Kennedy of the Denver Post assessed: "The finale manages to be tasteful and exploitative at the same time. It touts forgiveness while being mildly infuriating. Such is the danger of borrowing from the enormous to merely entertain. If that. Forgettable should be the last thing a movie touching on the events of 9/11 should be. Yet 'Remember Me' is just that."
Stephen Whitty of Newark's Star-Ledger, who liked the film, revealed in his review: "Movie fans should know that the story takes an abrupt third-act twist and tacks on the sort of arbitrary, 'significant' ending that's better left to first-year creative-writing assignments."
Rebecca Murray of About.com observed: "Even if you disapprove of just where the film goes, the story building up to the final climatic twist is moving and real."
Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, who liked Pattinson's performance, stated: "Along the way, many people die but few matter: most are just part of the warm-up act as well as the means to a shamelessly exploitative end."
Boo Allen of the Denton Record Chronicle charged: "'Remember Me' wallows deepest in shame by concluding its treacly treatise by drawing on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in a final plea for emotion. Unforgivable."
Audiences seem a little more forgiving. In the 'Remember Me' user reviews page on Moviefone, MissPink1189 writes, "This movie has definitely changed my life ... Some say too soon for an ending like that, but it just makes the story that much better." Jenniebruan22 wrote that she lives in New York, "and I didn't find the end distasteful at all. In fact it made me see the movie in a much more profound way." Says ARod73: "The surprise ending leaves a lasting [message] of living life with a purpose , embracing the small moments of happiness and not waiting to tell someone how you feel, tell them now." Still, Dmachone thinks, "The ending of this movie is unbelievably out of line."
It is understandable that some people found the ending shocking -- there are many New Yorkers and those beyond who lost someone in the 9/11 tragedy -- but when critics use words like "unforgivable" and "offensive," it not only condemns the filmmakers of outright exploitation and tastelessness, but it seems to render the subject taboo in some manner. While for most people the ending will come as a shock, it does add some emotional impact to the story. Could a smaller tragedy have sufficed in place of the Twin Tower collapse? Probably, but somehow utilizing an event that all of us feel connected to adds further impact to the story, and it also contemplates the idea of how many other deeply interwoven stories ended on that fateful day, and what they were like.
One can argue that the inclusion of 9/11 is unnecessary and insensitive, and that such a major public trauma did not need to be part of the film's more intimate story. One could also argue that the film does not linger long on or exploit images of the devastation. We do not see the planes hit the towers, but we do see the smoldering buildings from a distance and watch most of the film's characters looking towards downtown Manhattan in horror, knowing that Tyler is trapped there. We see his diary landing amid the rubble. The events are not used to make a political statement, but a personal one, although they are rendered within an unexpected plot twist that has left many people feeling uneasy or angry.
The filmmakers undoubtedly knew their ending would be polarizing, and Summit Entertainment took a gamble with it. A safe bet would have been to film a less controversial finale. By the same token, 'Remember Me' focuses on the tragedy that befalls us when we live our lives full of conflict, anger and bitterness and fail to appreciate the happy and joyous moments when they come -- or to learn to forgive, make amends and move forward with our lives. And how many of us appreciated those sentiments more after the horrifying shock of 9/11?
'Remember Me' is not the first and will certainly not be the last film to incorporate 9/11 into a cinematic storyline. Like most major tragedies and wartime events, it will undoubtedly be filtered through a pop culture lens well into the future. It is 2010, and we are still making movies about the Holocaust and WWII (for example), and some of them have certainly been politically incorrect and generated debate. Perhaps 'Remember Me' director Allen Coulter and screenwriter Will Fetters were thinking about this when they created this story and brought it to the screen. Or perhaps not. (Coulter has said he was initially tentative about using the ending.)
At least they have us talking, not only about the film's message, but how we are still polarized by and dealing with the aftermath of a major catastrophic event. The emotional conflict that it has stirred is in keeping with the spirit of the film. Better that reaction than indifference.
Moviefone via RobPattzNews