Suppose someone wanted to make a hard-hitting science fiction movie; and his resources were a handful of amateur actors from the Canadian Badlands, a director with five years' experience making educational films ... and a budget of $4,000. What would you expect?
I guarantee you'd never expect anything near as good as Remember. At today's prices, you couldn't make forty-five seconds of another Star Wars sequel. You couldn't even make a commercial. Those of us who are movie buffs, alas, have grown accustomed to seeing films starring big-name actors and costing gazillions of dollars, whose quality ranges from ho-hum to abominable.
Remember outclasses many a Hollywood production. But we don't mean to praise it by comparison. The story is compelling; the acting is professional in quality, even without a single big name in the cast; the camera-work is superb; the music is just right-and, best of all, Remember is artistically daring and full of surprises. It's so full of surprises, in fact, that it won't be easy to review it without spoiling some of the surprises.
A Not-so-Nice Future
The story is set in the near future, the year 2050, in a North America recovering from an economic collapse and a population implosion. Somehow our republican institutions of government and our free society have vanished without a trace. In return for security, Americans have yielded up their liberties to a statist tyranny.
Here are the "three pillars" of this brave new world, which its children have to recite every morning.
*"No father shall know his child, and no child shall know his father." This is actually a quote from Plato, the original statist.
*"Nothing belongs to anyone ..." Haven't we heard that one before?
*"Mem-relief keeps us all safe ..."
That's how this new state works: every adult is on a pill called Mem-relief, which blocks unpleasant or politically inconvenient memories. It seems plausible that just such a scheme might actually be proposed by experts; it's asinine enough. Mem-relief keeps everybody in line, but it also fogs their short-term memory and messes up their daily lives. It's a kind of artificially-induced senility. But the state is committed to its vision of a whole civilization dependent on daily meds provided by the government, and its leaders are not about to abandon the experiment.
Fulfilling a dream as old as Plato, the state has finally abolished the family. Children are given up at birth and raised by the government. Their parents' awareness that they've even had these children is wiped out by Mem-relief.
But Remember has a Christian message, so the story has much more to offer than just a visit to a dreary future.
The plot centers on Carl, an officer in the Child Protection Agency. The agency's mission is to keep children and parents from ever getting back together. Carl's wife, Wendy, is pregnant with their third child. They aren't supposed to remember that they've already had two children, but then there are a lot of things that Carl is supposed to forget-things that keep trying to break through the Mem-relief barrier. They come out in his dreams.
Here is where I think I'd better stop trying to summarize the story, before I wind up giving something away.
Justin Lewis plays Carl. You won't find any articles about him on the Internet. "His background is in animation," Director Greg Lammiman tells us. "He works full-time with a street ministry in Calgary."
Never mind-the guy is good. Really. He's every bit as good as many a big-name movie star, and better than some. He's on screen for almost every scene, so he has to be good; if he stumbles, the movie falls. Also it's a very demanding role: it isn't easy being Carl. But Mr. Lewis is fully up to the challenge.
Rachel Peacock, from the Rosebud School of the Arts in the village of Rosebud, plays Wendy, Carl's wife. As Wendy, she projects sweetness without it ever turning syrupy or cloying: it comes off as altogether natural. We have seen many actresses try to do this and not succeed.
Let's be honest, and admit that a clearly-labeled "Christian movie" often portends a sometimes indigestible belt of pure molasses. If the New Testament had been a certain kind of Christian movie, there'd be nothing in it about Judas, Herod, Pilate, or the moneychangers in the Temple, never mind the Crucifixion.
There are a few very brief moments when Remember comes close to crossing the line that divides sweet from saccharine. But on the whole Remember is a solidly hard-edged movie, in keeping with the situation it describes. No member of the cast ever strays into sappiness, nor do any of the "bad guys" ever sink into self-caricature. There's many a Hollywood production for which we cannot say the same.
Greg Lammiman took some chances with Remember, artistically. I was at first put off by the muted colors of the film, and longed to see something, anything, in red or orange. All I can say, without spoiling one of Lammiman's surprises, is that there turns out to be a very good reason for this. Trust me.
There are dystopias and there are dystopias. There is no way out of The Hunger Games or 1984, no hope for the characters stuck in those stories. But such a vision ignores a lesson of history, which is congruent with the teaching in the Bible: that no worldly power, no matter how ruthless, no matter how fierce, lasts for one moment longer than God wills. Suffice it to say that the pseudo-history created for Remember conforms to God's Word.
"Our family of eight has performed in the Canadian Badlands Passion Play for the past nine years," Greg Lammiman says (see http://canadianpassionplay.com/). "The production [of Remember] was a very low budget. God provided amazing locations, actors and wardrobe, which made the production values so much higher than we imagined they could be. We prayed from the very beginning that it would be His project and He answered that prayer on an ongoing basis. It was a wonderful faith journey for all involved."
Well, you'd never guess it was an amateur production. It has a feel to it reminiscent of George Lucas' THX 1138 or the Disney Studios' Tron-both science fiction movie classics, by the way. I will never guess how they managed to come up with their sets! You'd swear the whole thing cost millions of dollars. But it's first-class all the way.
As to actually getting to see this movie, the bad news is that the Lammimans have not yet been able to get Remember into theaters or aired on television. They're still working on distribution.
The good news is that you can easily order a DVD of Remember from the movie-makers' website, http://www.TheRememberMovie.com/ , and watch it at home. It's a full-length feature film. You won't find it anything like a skimpy made-for-youtube production.
It does not come with a special introductory sample of Mem-relief: which, as you'll agree after you've seen the movie, is just as well.