Things money can buy

“It’s breaking my heart to watch you run around
‘Cause I know that you’re living a lie
But that’s ok, baby
‘Cause in time you will find
What goes around, goes around, goes around
Comes all the way back around”

Justin Timberlake

In his 2011 celebrated short film 5000 Thousand Feet is the Best, prolific visual artists Omer Fast portrayed the life of drone pilots through a staged and written looped interview of an actor playing a drone pilot and actual documentary interview of a retired real-life American drone pilot, mixed with loosely tied shorter fictional narratives. Whatever was launched from those pilot-less planes most certainly landed in his first feature, Remainder, presented here at New Directors New Film, an adaptation of Tom McCarthy’s debut novel. A young man played by Tom Sturridge walks down flights of stairs in the center of London and leaves a black suitcase behind, until an unidentified object falls on him through a large glass ceiling. His body is smashed to the ground almost (but not quite) dead; what is left is a man without memories.

Here begins the tale of a long series of mistreatment inflicted on the protagonist’s body. He is “butchered” on the operating table, he trips and falls face down in a milk puddle, he is punched by a homeless guy, tased by a mysterious police agent… Right from the first minutes of projection, one is alerted by the apparent “pleasure” the movie takes in hurting the character with whom the audience is invited to identify. But it doesn’t stop in this slapstick (humorless) treatment of the body. The camera itself constantly brutalizes the protagonist by dislocating him, individualizing elements of himself, as when he starts frantically dancing in the subway to the sound of a didgeridoo, or mechanically tries to pick up a coin until he gets punched by the aforementioned homeless person. The corporeal presence of an individual in its environment is disregarded, resulting in a mise en scène organized in a “system” of floating heads in space, placing people in a cold, quasi-dystopian white-and-glass soulless ecosystem.

In this chirurgical world, it is hard to develop any kind of profound emotions, or thinking for that matter. When a side female character enters the narrative (apparently some sort of ex-girlfriend, perhaps a friend’s ex…), one is invited to wonder if the film will follow this possibility of developing love connections when the world around is so uninviting and above all there aren’t any “remainders” from any past life. But right away, this character is treated as a potential danger like everybody and everything else. They will all, eventually, as was Tom, end up being beaten up, killed or mistreated in some shape or form. Everyone is a rock in someone else’s shoe.

After the opening incident, the corporation responsible for the mysterious object and its crash offers Tom a multi million settlement, buying thus his silence –  rather convenient, as he puts it, since he lost his memory anyways, and wouldn’t have any story to tell. But thankfully in Fast’s world, and its understanding of our capitalist society, memory is a commodity. In an unexpected twist, the movie takes a turn similar to Charlie Kauffman’s Synecdoche, New York’s (2008) premise. Here, a now wealthy man decides to put his resources to recreating the few blurry images he holds in his mind. After having accepted to be the corporation’s “slave”, he becomes his own iteration of such capitalist structure, and enslaves (no need for quotation marks here) a number of nameless and unidentified people to inhabit the literal reconstitution of his own psyche.

A proposition of cinema is a vision of the world, as much as a vision of the world is a proposition of cinema. Even though there isn’t a clear discourse on its diegesis or an exciting dialogue about the moving pictures, it seems like Omer Fast’s thinking path goes as follow: money can buy memory, which in turn can buy a narrative and the opportunity for storytelling; follow the arrows, and one can buy its way into the art of cinema… And indeed this is exactly what Omer Fast seems to have done: he “bought himself” onto the feature film format hoping the audience will serve their sole purpose of being present for him, but highly neglected the cinema part, alongside all the implications it has in terms of staging, sticking to rather conventional choices that merely illustrate the content of the narrative, and an editing that is as mechanical and cold as the vault of the London City bank Tom decides to rob (yes, after having decided to recreate his memory the protagonist somehow, and for some reason, decides to recreate the robbery of a bank which becomes an actual bank-robbery…)

The director loops back to similar strategies seen in 5000 Feet is the Best, by rendering the whole story more or less null and bringing the end exactly to its beginning, in a baroque gesture, creating an archetypical circular design. The characters are prisoners of their condition, and the spectator is captive of its own. Again, there is hope for no one. The narrative structure becomes as corrupt as the world it is depicting. Remainder seems to be a simplistic accidental plea for utilitarianism, a philosophy born in the UK, where the film was shot, and emerged with capitalism. Even this latter tradition of thought, taken in its best forms, seems to have more regards for the collective over the individual – while Fast looks at the world as a decontextualized interaction between corrupt floating heads.

Cinema is often born from a desire to recreate memory, indeed… perhaps it is mostly that. But here we are left in a cold glass machine of vision that leaves no room to feel any emotion whatsoever towards said memories. In trying to add them up in a logical manner, to tie them together with an editing bow, Fast delivers a nightmarish vision of the world these memories are, in some way, trying to preserve.

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