Shoah survivors plot revenge on Nazi killer in tense thriller

Christopher Plummer (left) and Martin Landau star in REMEMBER. ©A24 Films.

By Cate Marquis, Special to the Jewish Light

In director Atom Egoyan’s thriller “Remember,” Martin Landau and Christopher Plummer play Max and Zev respectively, two Shoah survivors now living in a New York retirement home. 

When Zev’s beloved wife dies, Max tells Zev he must now fulfill their pact — to kill the Nazi commander who murdered their families at Auschwitz. Max has uncovered that the Nazi commander immigrated to North America, under the assumed name Rudy Kurlander. But there is a problem: Max is confined to a wheelchair and tied to an oxygen tank, so he needs Zev to be his legs to track down the Nazi. 

Unfortunately, Zev’s memory is failing rapidly and each day he has to be reminded his beloved wife is gone. Max tells Zev that as the only two left who can still identify this murderer, they must form a team — with Max as the brains and Zev as the legs — to hunt down the Nazi commander hiding as Kurlander. 

“Remember” is a more straight-forward, accessible film for Egoyan, an Oscar-nominated Canadian director of Armenian heritage with a reputation for thought-provoking, sometimes challenging films. Still, this is not your typical, fast-paced, car-chase thriller. “Remember” is more of a slow-boil, sharing some elements with “Memento,” another thriller involving memory loss, and unfolding as a taut, psychological, sometimes violent descent into issues like memory, identity and revenge. 


It also concludes with a shocking ending, which has divided both critics and audiences, with some feeling it makes the film and others feeling it undermines it. One thing all agree on is that Plummer delivers an outstanding performance as the central character.

When Zev sets out, the audience cannot help but wonder how this is going to work — a confused elderly man being directed at a distance by another man in a retirement home. But Max sends Zev, whose name means “wolf,” off to hunt down their quarry, armed with a letter filled with information about his mission, while Max arranges money, transportation and lodging — and provides constant phone call reminders as well. 

Besides Zev’s fading memory, one of the problems they face is that Max has located four men with the name Rudy Kurlander who could be the one they seek. Zev has to make his way to each one, for face-to-face identification. 

While Zev’s children frantically search for him, believing he has simply wandered away from the retirement home, Max’s thorough arrangements have put Zev on a train headed to the first “Rudy.” This rare tidbit of humor is one of the many Hitchcockian touches in the film, and Egoyan skillfully employs these techniques to build tensions. Zev’s hunt takes him across the country and across the Canadian border. The journey brings him into strange, unlikely situations where chance events often play a role, such as in one chilling scene, where he encounters an anti-Semitic man in a remote rural home. 

Plummer’s excellent performance is one of the film’s consistent strengths. The actor crafts a poignant character, a confused but angry, vengeful man, whose grief and feelings of loss are renewed every day when he realizes his wife is dead. Zev’s growing dementia blurs questions about identity, and he holds tight to Max’s words as he re-reads the letter, or searches the face of each “Rudy.” The audience watches in fascination as Zev moves almost mechanically under Max’s distant but pervasive influence, watching Zev make his uncertain way, with Max’s invisible hand and frequent phone calls shaping the path. Plummer brings out every nuance the role holds.

Besides stars Plummer and Landau, the film features a strong international cast, including Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, who played Hitler in “Downfall,” and “Breaking Bad’s” Dean Norris as a neo-Nazi cop, plus Jurgen Pruchnow, Heinz Lieven and Henry Czerny. Each delivers a sharp performance that adds to the tension as it builds to its shocking conclusion.

Confronting each Rudy Kurlander raises questions around secrecy, identity, obsession and revenge. As Zev’s journey unfolds, his dementia grows as well, complicating his task and adding layers to Plummer’s complex portrayal. Egoyan fills his film with edgy scenes and an insistent score. As Zev’s memory fades, so does his sense of purpose and even his sense of self, lending the film a sense of the unreal as Zev reaches the final Rudy Kurlander. 

“Remember” is a thriller with powerful performance, finished with an ending audiences will not soon forget.