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“Remember” poses more questions

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Film: Remember

Genre: Drama Thriller

Starring: Christopher Plummer, Bruno Ganz, Jurgen Prochnow, Heinz Lieven, Henry Czerny, Dean Norris and Martin Landau.

Dementia patient Zev Gutman (Christopher Plummer) is deputized to find and kill former Auschwitz blockfuhrer Otto Walisch by his fellow nursing home patient and concentration camp survivor Max Rosenbaum (Max Landau). The aging Rosenbaum, on an oxygen feed, has undertaken to search for the killer of their families for the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and convinces Zev to seek revenge for the murders, reminding him of the promise to him by Zev when Zev’s wife Ruth Gutman passes away as she has when the film opens. Because of the suspected age of Walisch, it is unlikely he would be extradited to Germany, thus the mission, in a personal capacity, Max tells Zev.

This is the plot of this Canadian-German drama thriller Remember, released in 2015, which leaves the viewer disturbed and haunted long after the film has ended, with poignant, existential questions to wrestle with. To what extent is a person suffering from senile dementia devoid of all memory? To what age are Nazis hunted? Though the enigmatic Zev wakes up in cold sweats looking for his now departed wife Ruth from his side, director Atom Egoyan and writer Benjamin August do not frequent Zev’s dreams with the cries or visions of Auschwitz prisoners.

Otto Walisch entered North America after the war under the false name Rudy Kurlander. It is Zev’s task on Max’s written instructions to recognize the former commandant out of four possible Rudy Kurlanders residing in the US and Canada, for which Zev must cross into Canada as well, to determine which of the Kurlanders is Walisch.

Zev embarks on his trip from the nursing home in the US, slipping away from the watchful eyes of the frail care attendants. His first mission is to buy a gun with the money Max gives him, choosing a German-made Glock, which leaves him short of cash and therefore traceable by his frantic son when he uses his own credit card to complete his mission.

One of the Rudy Kurlanders is a concentration camp inmate himself, a homosexual, to whom Zev begs forgiveness after threatening him with the gun to reveal his true identity, which he has not feigned. The peculiarity is that the concentration camp numbers tattooed on the arms of Zev and this Rudy Kurlander are placed on the upper side of the forearm, where usually the numbers were imprinted on the underside of the forearms.

A convincing performance is given by John Kurlander (Dean Norris), the son of a recently deceased Rudy Kurlander, a Neo Nazi. His late father, however, turns out to be much younger than would be the age of Otto Walisch. A state trooper, the son sets his Alsatian on Zev who shoots both the dog and John Kurlander, disobeying Max’s orders. The acting  is all the more chilling for Jon Kurlander’s switch from hospitable to abusive, on discovering Zev’s tattoed number on his arm and that he is a Jew, and not a former friend of his late father’s. To what extent are Nazis emboldened by their hire as law-enforcement officers? Did it serve North Americans any purpose to allow Nazis to enter America after the war ostensibly for security purposes to fight a common enemy, the Russians?

It is in the final discovery of the fourth Rudy Kurlander, that Zev recognizes the voice of the former blockfuhrer. Without revealing the denouement, the film poses the questions of to what age can a life-long secret be hidden? When Zev plays a Wagner tune on this Rudy Kurlander’s piano, he is asked is not unusual for a Jew to play Wagner by Kurlander to which Zev replies: “Music is music”. More than enough controversy has been caused by famous Jewish conductors playing Wagner, an avowed Nazi.

To what degree is Zev suffering from dementia, is the real question, or has his own past been so successfully blotted out that he has succeeded in putting it behind him? The name “Ruth”, which is raised more than once, is of course associated with Ruth, the famous convert and great-grandmother of King David. Zev met and married her on Coney Island, New York in 1946. To what extent can a convert eradicate his or her own past and are they genuine, though Zev is ostensibly fully Jewish? Can a former blockfuhrer, a mass murderer, really feel remorse for what he has done? And what of gun laws in America such that anyone, or almost anyone, can buy a gun over a counter? What reason would a gun buyer have other than to kill?


Alison Goldberg is the former property editor of Business Day (1985) and the Financial Mail (1991-99). In 1995 she won the Sanlam Financial Journalist of the Year Award. She has edited such titles as National Constructor and The Miner in Australia and has freelanced for The Star, The South African Jewish Report and The Jerusalem Post.

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