How can a fabrication replicate reality?” FILM COMMENT mused in a 2003 overview of the gallery work of Omer Fast. Twelve years later, the song (or the refrain) remains the same. Remainder, Fast’s dizzying debut feature, adapts Tom McCarthy’s 2005 novel about an amnesiac trauma victim who attempts to jump-start his memory by orchestrating insanely meticulous reenactments. Starring Tom Sturridge, and impeccably designed, it’s like Atom Egoyan meets Christopher Nolan meets M.C. Escher: an iterative thriller of identity.
Sturridge plays a man who loses his memory in a freak accident. Awarded millions in a lawsuit settlement, he sets about pursuing the only things that money can’t buy—his past, and his intact former self. And so—mimicking a director and acquiring his own fixer-producer—he hires people to re-create the sights (cats perched on a rooftop), smells (food cooking), and other details of an existence that haunts him. Meanwhile, anonymous thugs threaten him and his project, and there’s a femme who may or may not be fatale. The effect is a boxes-within-boxes psychiatric take on existentialism, and a continuation of Fast’s grappling with the age-old artistic chimera of interpreting experience.
For all the conceptual appeal of the film, Sturridge’s vulnerability carries the premise through, his head seemingly permanently cocked in stubborn reminiscence that turns into something aggressive. It’s easy to view the scenario as an expression of the directorial struggle to Get It Right, but more generally Remainder is like the Zeno’s Paradox of life as lived, the perpetual shortfall between sense and sensibility.