Welcome to the Post-Movie Coffee. Much like a discuss post, this occasional series will tackle thoughts our Cinematical writers are mulling over about recent releases. You know -- those plot points and discussion topics you want to dig into with a coffee after a screening.
The idea for this series has been swimming around in my head for a while, but it never insisted on hitting the written page until now. Last week, Robert Pattinson's Remember Me hit the screen. Before its release, public concern focused on how Pattinson would deal with a mainstream starring role that didn't have him grimacing every time the tasty-smelling Bella Swan walked by. Once people saw the film and its controversial ending, however, the dialogue flipped. In what has to be one of the lowest scores for a decent movie, the film has suffered a 26% Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, with critiques flinging words like ridiculous, manipulative, overwrought, shamelessly exploitative, insignificant, trivializing, vile, cheap, and unforgivable.
And for the first time in a very long time, I completely disagree with popular critical opinion.
(Seeing that this is a discussion of the film and its ending, here is your obvious SPOILER WARNING.)
Remember Me focuses on the hot-headed but well-meaning life of Tyler Hawkins (Robert Pattinson), and his romance with the good girl Ally Craig (Emilie de Ravin). The story is nothing new. Both have suffered terrible tragedy in their past -- Ally's mom was killed in front of her at a young age, while Tyler's brother killed himself -- and they play out the timeless tale of the misunderstood bad guy and that rare girl who recognizes his noble motivations. All the typical characterizations are there: bad-dad Charles Hawkins (Pierce Brosnan), the overprotective pop Sgt. Neil Craig (Chris Cooper), the slutty and immature best man-friend Aidan Hall (Tate Ellington), and the smarter-than-her-years younger sister Caroline Hawkins (Ruby Jerins).
While the characters are all too familiar, how their lives play out is not. Usually a drama uses character twists that you may or may not buy into -- the bad guy goes good, the good guy goes bad. In Remember Me, it's all grey, where even the most stereotypical aspects are given real rationale. Young Caroline is an art prodigy, but this rare talent isn't just a cinematic device bubbling up out of nowhere -- you can see how she's developed her talent as a desperate way to earn her father's attention and approval. That dad Charles, meanwhile, fills out every truly despicable bad father moment, but when faced with severe trauma, when his familial awkwardness is replaced by the instinctual drive to protect his family, he becomes real. The realism in these characterizations makes them familiar not because we've seen them so many times before, but because they become like people we've encountered through our lives, rather than just people on a screen.
That's compounded by a strict decision not to wallow in pain. Save the shocking death of Ally's mother in the beginning of the film, Allen Coulter chooses to back off the ten-tissue drama where we see people sob and fall apart. The knife is not stuck in and twisted. There is always emotion, but he knows you don't have to show it to make an impact. When Caroline walks into that party of jerky little girls, your gut knows what will happen, but instead of lingering, we only see the aftermath. And of course, when Tyler bikes to his dad's office, finally finding the humanity in the man he's hated, we don't see why this moment is both beautiful and devastating first-hand.
The ending... With hints that you either recognize from the get-go, or smack your head in exasperation afterward, Tyler is waiting for Charles in his World Trade Center office. Caroline's teacher has written the date on the board -- September 11, 2001. You don't need to see the explosion; you know what happens. The camera pans out from the towers, and then we're shown a brief montage of each character dealing with the tragedy. Neil tries to help with the disaster; Caroline walks out of the school and realizes her brother or dad will never again be there to get her or drop her off; Charles realizes that he is losing another son, just as he got him back. The shots linger long enough to pay tribute without hungrily eating up each character's pain. And when it ends with Ally taking that subway ride she never got to take a decade before, it's the right time.
I can understand why many viewers are angered. September 11 is the gut-wrenching tragedy people of today live with. The film taps into our collective experience, which recalls our own pain while making these people real. The story gains a semblance of reality much more worthy than if the obviously doomed Tyler got killed in an accident, shot, or any other typical deadly device. The film is about 9/11 in that many normal, regular people were lost in those towers, who had lives much like our own. They weren't heroes or demons, just people who died much too soon. Situated as it is, we're reminded of our own loved ones and people we lost, how each person in that tower had a story, and simply that at any time, this can all be taken away -- whether by an act that affects one, or an act that affects the world.
To frame this as a 9/11 story in marketing or presentation would make this film's meaning cease to exist. Every action and reaction would be a means to an ever-looming end, rather than a real life simply snuffed out without warning by a terrible tragedy. That day is so big, so heavy, that no real story -- where heroism is no more than humanity -- could hold up to the pressure. And as we sit here almost ten years later, it's nice to stop thinking about the spectacle and what came after, and to imagine the stories that were lost.
Obviously, I'm in the minority, so I'd love to hear what you think below. Did you like it? If you didn't, how would you have changed the film, or how could the same story be made in a way that you appreciate?