As a wise man once said, time is a flat circle. It doesn’t so much matter where or when we find ourselves, so much as the simple fact of finding ourselves at all. Omer Fast’s feature debut Remainder plays with this idea to breaking point, to an extent which is sometimes infuriating but ultimately rewarding for those willing to take a step back and let the focal depth adjust.
Tom Sturridge plays Tom, a man ‘squashed into the pavement’ by falling debris in the film’s opening moments. He spends the rest of the story (and his £8.5 million pound settlement) attempting to piece together the fragments of his memory and the constituent parts of his life before the accident. Around him move Cush Jumbo’s Catherine, an American banker, old friend Greg (Ed Speeler), and the mysteriously efficient Naz (Arsher Ali). Sturridge, coming off his breakout role in Far From The Madding Crowd, is peculiarly engaging as he limps and shuffles around the world he builds for himself. Played almost aggressively distant, Tom is the very model of the perfectionist auteur as he barks instructions at his performers in pursuit of the reverie of remembrance.
Arsher Ali is a particular delight. Holding, as Tom would have it, a waft of the humour and irony from his time with Chris Morris in Four Lions, he brings an immaculately manicured charisma to his role as the man who can procure everything from mansion blocks to confidential police reports. Much of the film’s somewhat sly humour comes from the double act formed between him and Sturridge.
As for the story itself, the comparisons with many other films – Synecdoche, Memento, even Fight Club – are made too easily. One recalls however, the famous instance of Howard Hawks’ questioning of Raymond Chandler on a particular plot point of the notoriously convoluted The Big Sleep, to which the author simply replied, “Dammit if I didn’t know either.” Remainder is a film which rewards patience and investigation, but not simply on a plot-level – indeed it actively frustrates such efforts. The police, the plans, the sketches: they’re all shadows on the wall of Tom’s psyche as he attempts to piece together the scattered clues of his own existence. There’s a nice underplayed noirish edge to the whole thing, an enjoyable play on the nature of investigation which is admirable in its delicacy.
The production design serves this particular vibe well. It would be easy enough to ramp up the strangeness to distracting levels of oddity, or to simply present London as it is and let the movie lay its own unusual feel over the familiar. Instead things are presented as just a little off, enough to run alongside the general ambience without shining a spotlight on it; shots like that of Tom’s apartment with furniture piled with geometric rigidity in the hallway, or an especially funny scene involving cats tied to a rooftop, are exactly the sorts of deft touches which serve this film so well.
That’s not to say that Remainder doesn’t stumble. It very much has the feel of so many debut films; that of a director who is trying to say as much about movie-making as he is about the world. Fast is a video artist living in Berlin, and it shows. This is not Inception, the kind of film which you puzzle out. It’s a deliberately opaque narrative upon which one man’s ouroboric attempt to figure out some aspect of himself is projected. The delicacy mentioned earlier is often lacking, and there are a couple of gestures towards themes like gentrification and general urban malaise which stand at slightly uncomfortable odds with the relentless interiority of so much of the movie.
It could also have done with a little more of Tom’s own single-mindedness. Fast has tried to fit plenty of McCarthy’s original work into his own piece, when perhaps a more linear focus would have served him better (it’s always bad criticism to compare a film to the book, but in this case McCarthy’s original text is such a wonderful piece of writing it’s difficult not to have it in the back of one’s mind. Read it, if you haven’t already. The ending’s different so it won’t even spoil anything).
But for what it is, an ambitious and relentlessly imaginative picture with one foot in its arthouse roots and the other in the world of big screen thrillers, it’s a work which you’ll be turning over in your head long after the lights come up. If you want predictable go and see the new Independence Day. Sometimes it’s nice to lose yourself a little.