Review by Jonathan Berk
The things that our minds retain are often baffling. We forget that important request our spouse made on our way out the door, but a song we heard three weeks ago still plays on a loop in our mind. Two people who experienced the same event as siblings may remember that moment in a variety of ways that seem like they must have been at a different event. Understanding the human mind is always puzzling, and writer/director Michel Franco’s new film Memory explores two sides of this idea: a person who remembers too deeply and one who can barely remember at all.
The movie begins at an anniversary celebration for Silvia (Jessica Chastain) at an AA meeting. She lives with her daughter in a small New York apartment and works at a public home for adults struggling with mental health conditions. The many locks on her door and her hesitation towards people imply Silvia has had a rough past. After a celebration at her old high school, Saul (Peter Sarsgaard) follows her home. He stays outside of her apartment all night and through rain. Silvia confronts him in the morning, and their odd encounter develops from there.
Casting Sarsgaard for this role and this specific initial encounter was a great play on audience expectations. Those familiar with the films Magnificent Seven, Boys Don’t Cry, Flightplan, An Education, or Green Lantern will think his character has malicious intentions. Saul notices Silvia sitting alone at a table. He works through the crowd and sits across from her. He doesn’t say anything to her and just stares at her. Eventually, Silvia gets up and leaves the party and Saul follows. It would be creepy if anyone took the actions that Saul does, but Sarsgaard in the role reinforces the concern. However, Saul’s motivation here isn’t what the circumstances imply.
Chastain is playing so many levels of emotion in this film. She has had a rough time and, as a result, is a bit overbearing and overprotective of her daughter, Anna (Brooke Timber). Her fridge is broken, and she needs to call a repair technician. When the guy arrives, she says through the intercom and behind locked doors that she requested a woman technician. This happens before meeting Saul, which only makes that moment of her fleeing the party all the more stressful. Yet, this isn’t a thriller but rather a drama.
The next moment Silvia and Saul share after that long, initial encounter is vital to understanding the ideas the film explores. Silvia believes she remembers an encounter with Saul many years before, but Saul does not. There are reasons Saul’s memory may not be accurate, but Silvia’s sister Olivia (Merritt Wever) confirms that Silvia is mistaken. Without getting into specifics, this moment is essential to many scenes in the rest of the film. Both Silvia and Saul’s memories are called into question but for different reasons. Our memories are fallible and subjective. The way Franco explores this idea through the story with these two characters is compelling and often stressful.
Memory has some great performances and an intriguing premise. The questions posed don’t quite reach a satisfying conclusion. The romance is a complicated one that also raises some ethical questions when considering the circumstances of their meeting.
Memory will be in theaters on December 22.