Friday, March 19, 2010

Post-Movie Coffee: Remember Me


The idea for this series has been swimming around in my head for a while, but it never insisted on hitting the written page until now. Last week, Robert Pattinson's Remember Me hit the screen. Before its release, public concern focused on how Pattinson would deal with a mainstream starring role that didn't have him grimacing every time the tasty-smelling Bella Swan walked by. Once people saw the film and its controversial ending, however, the dialogue flipped. In what has to be one of the lowest scores for a decent movie, the film has suffered a 26% Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, with critiques flinging words like ridiculous, manipulative, overwrought, shamelessly exploitative, insignificant, trivializing, vile, cheap, and unforgivable.

And for the first time in a very long time, I completely disagree with popular critical opinion.

(Seeing that this is a discussion of the film and its ending, here is your obvious SPOILER WARNING.)

Remember Me focuses on the hot-headed but well-meaning life of Tyler Hawkins (Robert Pattinson), and his romance with the good girl Ally Craig (Emilie de Ravin). The story is nothing new. Both have suffered terrible tragedy in their past -- Ally's mom was killed in front of her at a young age, while Tyler's brother killed himself -- and they play out the timeless tale of the misunderstood bad guy and that rare girl who recognizes his noble motivations. All the typical characterizations are there: bad-dad Charles Hawkins (Pierce Brosnan), the overprotective pop Sgt. Neil Craig (Chris Cooper), the slutty and immature best man-friend Aidan Hall (Tate Ellington), and the smarter-than-her-years younger sister Caroline Hawkins (Ruby Jerins).

While the characters are all too familiar, how their lives play out is not. Usually a drama uses character twists that you may or may not buy into -- the bad guy goes good, the good guy goes bad. In Remember Me, it's all grey, where even the most stereotypical aspects are given real rationale. Young Caroline is an art prodigy, but this rare talent isn't just a cinematic device bubbling up out of nowhere -- you can see how she's developed her talent as a desperate way to earn her father's attention and approval. That dad Charles, meanwhile, fills out every truly despicable bad father moment, but when faced with severe trauma, when his familial awkwardness is replaced by the instinctual drive to protect his family, he becomes real. The realism in these characterizations makes them familiar not because we've seen them so many times before, but because they become like people we've encountered through our lives, rather than just people on a screen.

That's compounded by a strict decision not to wallow in pain. Save the shocking death of Ally's mother in the beginning of the film, Allen Coulter chooses to back off the ten-tissue drama where we see people sob and fall apart. The knife is not stuck in and twisted. There is always emotion, but he knows you don't have to show it to make an impact. When Caroline walks into that party of jerky little girls, your gut knows what will happen, but instead of lingering, we only see the aftermath. And of course, when Tyler bikes to his dad's office, finally finding the humanity in the man he's hated, we don't see why this moment is both beautiful and devastating first-hand.

The ending... With hints that you either recognize from the get-go, or smack your head in exasperation afterward, Tyler is waiting for Charles in his World Trade Center office. Caroline's teacher has written the date on the board -- September 11, 2001. You don't need to see the explosion; you know what happens. The camera pans out from the towers, and then we're shown a brief montage of each character dealing with the tragedy. Neil tries to help with the disaster; Caroline walks out of the school and realizes her brother or dad will never again be there to get her or drop her off; Charles realizes that he is losing another son, just as he got him back. The shots linger long enough to pay tribute without hungrily eating up each character's pain. And when it ends with Ally taking that subway ride she never got to take a decade before, it's the right time.

I can understand why many viewers are angered. September 11 is the gut-wrenching tragedy people of today live with. The film taps into our collective experience, which recalls our own pain while making these people real. The story gains a semblance of reality much more worthy than if the obviously doomed Tyler got killed in an accident, shot, or any other typical deadly device. The film is about 9/11 in that many normal, regular people were lost in those towers, who had lives much like our own. They weren't heroes or demons, just people who died much too soon. Situated as it is, we're reminded of our own loved ones and people we lost, how each person in that tower had a story, and simply that at any time, this can all be taken away -- whether by an act that affects one, or an act that affects the world.

To frame this as a 9/11 story in marketing or presentation would make this film's meaning cease to exist. Every action and reaction would be a means to an ever-looming end, rather than a real life simply snuffed out without warning by a terrible tragedy. That day is so big, so heavy, that no real story -- where heroism is no more than humanity -- could hold up to the pressure. And as we sit here almost ten years later, it's nice to stop thinking about the spectacle and what came after, and to imagine the stories that were lost.

Obviously, I'm in the minority, so I'd love to hear what you think below. Did you like it? If you didn't, how would you have changed the film, or how could the same story be made in a way that you appreciate?


Thanks to a_svirn for the tip


Heather said...

This movie is (to me) about how death changes families and friends forever. There is no way to march through the 7 (or so) levels of 'grieving' and come out OK. We get on with our lives, some better than others, but the loss is permanent. We are never 'the same.'

And I think, for New York, and the US, 9/11 holds the same position in America's collective memory. Which is why the critical responses are so emotional and detached from the very real quality of "Remember Me."

I read somewhere a remark by a very young person, that RM helped her understand the tragedy of that day.

Angela said...

I agree with the article that the movie is too realistic, and some people just can't handle it. It's too bad, because life is complicated, and art shouldn't be used to escape the reality.

Jane said...

What about the other movies that were made based on 9/11. I didn't hear remarks about them like I am hearing for RM. This was a wonderfule movie based on love and lost reminding us to love those dear to us until the end. I hate critics, everyone of them try to outdo the others by their nasty remarks. I have seen this film 4 times and still can't get it out of my head.

Heather said...

Jane, I think the weird reaction (ie, using 9/11 is 'unfair') is because RM is emotionally TRUE, in ways that previous documentaries have not been.

AmyC ~ said...

I saw it, I liked it - but it was hard for me to watch the 9-11 stuff (I did not kno anyone that died in the planes or buildings), but 9-11 is still hard for me.

Emma613 said...

I saw it and I loved it.I intend on seeing it again and buying the dvd when it is availible.I always say screw the critics because I know what movies I want to see regardless of what they have to say.I make up my own mind,thank you very much.I don't get why they are deeming the ending ridiculous,manipulative,overwrought etc.There was nothing about the ending that was cheap or unforgivable.Cheap and unforgivable would be showing a plane hitting the tower or have thousands of people running around screaming.For me the ending said live every freaking day to the fullest,love hard and laugh hard and be good to the people around us.And above all never ever take one dam thing for granted because it could all be gone tomorrow.Robert Pattinson,in my opinion is destined to be one of the greats.Every actor in RM did an outstanding job.Enough said!

dc said...

Thank you for sharing your take on this haunting movie...I understand that it is "based" on the writers own tragedies surrounding 9/11. It's understandable why some people who make a living dissecting scripts and story lines might dismiss this as contrived. But for me this story did not come into true focus until the ending. I thought it was worthwhile and in no way exploited 9/11.

jessegirl said...

This film does something no other has done in a very long time: it resonates, and the viewing public isn't used to it.
It requires multiple viewings. It sneaks into a lot of people hours later because it takes a long time to process, and then it's a tidal wave. So many people have been affected this way. They say things like: 'I can't stop thinking about it.'

People are blogging up a storm and the comments in spoiler threads are amazing. The film has tapped into a well of thought and feeling so deep, it is stunning in its power.People are moved, touched by the film. They care. That's something most movies can't do these days.

People are telling stories about their lives, their loves and losses and pains, as a result of watching Remember Me.

They aren't just talking about the ending. It is of a piece and the power of the film comes from its main theme, which Heather mentions. It is about loss, grief and healing.

Tyler, the central character, is played with power and subtlety by Robert Pattinson. The ending is so huge not just because it brings 9/11 into it, but because by that time we are emotionally invested in Tyler. And we wouldn't be if Robert hadn't done such a great job. If we don't care about Tyler and his death, everything else is irrelevant.

So when Tyler stands at that window and realization came to me of what doom was coming to him, the film started haunting me. The musical score was riveting. I was paralyzed, unable to breathe, too hysterical to cry.

Our sorrow is our homage, our respect, our expression of how much we have lost.
We must not forget. We must not forget the Holocaust. We must not forget 9/11. We must not forget that one particular life that was taken from us. We must not forget that one life.

It speaks to the enormous power of this film that it could unleash such a deep and primal well of feelings in so many of us. It is a remarkable result of a remarkable movie.

I see the film's treatment of the event as a homage, tastefully and eloquently done.

So when Tyler looks out that window and the camera zooms out so that there will be no mistake as to his fate, all I can think is that I want him back. It's f--king heartbreaking.

There is so much more. These filmakers are to be applauded. Ignorant and arrogant reviewers, who have eyes but cannot see, ears but cannot hear, say rotten tomatoes. I say Oscars. So there.

Anita said...

The anger at the ending is, in many cases, political. We're not supposed to think about 9/11 anymore because we're the bad guys. Using images of the twin towers is considered exploitive and also "racist" inasmuch as it supposedly engenders anti-Muslim feelings.

While we can't use images of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers (is it even ok to call it terrorism anymore?), it's more than ok to wear orange jumpsuits and a black sack over your head to represent what happened at Abu Ghraib when you're protesting something or other about the US.

It's why we see film after film about the war in Iraq (with the US military or the CIA or both as the bad guys), but none about 9/11. Nothing. Nothing at all from the point of view of the people who died in the buildings or the firefighters who died trying to save them.

Remember Me does the politically incorrect thing by humanizing the victims of the attack. It brings back all the feelings of that day and this simply isn't done. One is not allowed to feel sorry for anyone in those buildings because it can be extrapolated into anger at the people who knocked the buildings down.

I know that the film is not political and it's not about the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, but that doesn't matter. It was a story about some people, whom the audience got to know and care about, who ended up in those buildings that day and they died because of that terrorist attack.

Just. Not. Done. That's where the anger over the ending comes from.

Jessegirl, yes, we're told we must never forget the Holocaust, but we are told we must forget 9/11. We're told we dwell on it too much. This film brings it all back.

Heather said...

Anita, the anger by so many of the reviewers is exactly as you say: political shying away from 9/11's reality.

And Jesse, yes, I've been thinking about how death in my own family has affected me and my own life. In the movie, the deaths cut lives way before their Time. In my life, death came at the end of very long lives. But darned if RM has made me think a lot about all of that.

I went to the movie because I am a fan of Rob Pattinson, and I know that he is a very good actor (I have dvds of Little Ashes and How to Be). But the movie is much more than Rob's star power. The actors and writer and director have managed to deliver a very important message, on both political and personal levels, and I hope they realize this.

behnaz said...

This film does something no other has done in a very long time: it resonates, and the viewing public isn't used to it.
It requires multiple viewings. It sneaks into a lot of people hours later because it takes a long time to process, and then it's a tidal wave. So many people have been affected this way. They say things like: 'I can't stop thinking about it