Already an established contemporary video artist and filmmaker, Omer Fast has directed a range of short films challenging the conventions of storytelling, particularly focusing on the concept of reality, representation, and the fragile line between the two. For this reason, Fast would seem the perfect candidate to tackle Tom McCarthy’s mind-bender of a novel, Remainder; a difficult task for any first time director, but one that Fast pulls off, I’m happy to report, rather well.
Without giving much away or confusing the reader, I’ll be brief with the film’s plot, a story that, on its surface, is relatively simple, yet fascinatingly complex. Tom Sturridge plays an unnamed man, who, by accident, is hit by an unknown falling object. He wakes up with his memory completely wiped, but with £8.5m in compensation. As the events of the film play out, the man slowly begins to mentally reconstruct fragmented images of what he believes to be his memories, yet can never fully grasp the full picture of their relevance. Upon failing to mentally piece together these images, he begins to obsessively reconstruct them physically in the hope of unlocking further memories. This includes, among other things, using his compensation money to hire actors and staff in order to recreate in painstaking detail the accounts of his fragmented mind. During the duration of the film, we view in increasingly dangerous and obsessive detail the extent to which this man will go in order to recapture his memories; for without these, he seems aimless, nothing but a nameless ghost in a world that makes little sense to him.
Remainder is, on top of everything, an extremely brave film, particularly for a first time feature director. Its structure is like that of a puzzle film, with stern visual echoes of films such as David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997) lingering within its aesthetic and filmic structure. To discover the key to unlocking Remainder is to open a door leading to another one of its continuously looping puzzles. The film is ultimately an exploration of a human mind, a mind fixed within a dreamlike state, one attempting to establish a solid line between truth and simulation, yet ultimately failing to do so.
Underlining the entire film is a profound discussion about the reliability of memories. Remainder works best during its scenes of memory reconstruction, as we have, by this point, already witnessed the disconnected memories of our protagonist torment him internally, but by externalising these memories, the film is intentionally calling into question its own filmic world. We view actors and crews reconstructing what are presented to be real memories, yet their reconstruction fails to make these events any more real, but rather trivializes them, turning what was once natural and spontaneous into a rigorous step-by-step blueprint. Of course, the filmmakers inherently call the reliability of this method into question while using it to make the film itself, which is, in turn, a touch of genius; we are tempted to raise into question the reliability of our own memories, for what makes them any more ‘real’ than the story unfolding on screen before us? These questions are ultimately what make Remainder relevant and engaging.
If you haven’t already guessed, Remainder is a complex film filled with interesting ideas, yet it would be sensible to suggest that its context comes before its content. Remainder is in no way a character film; don’t expect a fully fleshed range of personalities or emotional social commentary. The film holds few central characters, of whom, hold little emotional relevance. In the end, the type of emotional impact the events of the film produce within its characters is largely irrelevant; the film instead focuses on how its characters process their emotions since the film’s key agenda is one of process and procedure, rather than one of character motivation. Remainder is smart rather than sensitive, tense rather than touching, and experimental rather than emotional.
All of the above could describe a film lacking in heart, a cold film with which nothing to fully grasp or personally connect to. For some audience members, I wouldn’t hesitate to guess that perhaps this is the case with Remainder. But for those knowing what to expect, Fast has successfully created a nail-biter of a film, one styled within a poetic and rhythmical tone, one filled with enough twists and turns to result in filmic dizziness. It should be noted that, while never quite being able to engage emotionally, all actors carry the film fantastically, particularly Tom Sturridge, who makes light-work of a deeply complex character, never once allowing his ‘tormented mind’ persona to become cliché, but rather maintaining the brutality of his physical and mental spiralling until the film’s very last frame.
It’s true to say that Remainder may not be for everyone, but for those looking to be challenged, for those looking for an interesting film experience, it’s more than worth seeking out. Its story may be hard to grasp; the key to understanding seems to move a little further away with each mental lunge. But, in attempting to unpack the film, its effect really does linger longingly in the mind; like an unreachable itch on your back, the solution is just out of arm’s reach.
Remainder is released in the UK on 24th June 2016.
The UK’s first comprehensive monographic exhibition of Omer Fast’s work; ‘Present Continuous’ runs at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead until 26 June 2016.