Renowned video artist Omer Fast is known for producing work that latches on to the viewer’s psyche and refuses to let go, consuming that pesky part of the mind that craves clarity, closure and concrete answers for days, weeks or, sometimes, even months. Remainder, Fast’s first foray into feature filmmaking, is no exception; while the film kicks off with a seemingly straightforward Hollywood narrative, viewers will be desperate for a second viewing the moment credits start to roll. Much like Tom, the film’s protagonist expertly portrayed by Tom Sturridge, filmgoers will become obsessed by the pursuit of putting the pieces of this story together.
Based on Tom McCarthy’s cult novel of the same name, Remainder tells the story of a young man who, after an impossible to anticipate accident, is left without any memory of the debilitating event or the details of his life preceding it. After receiving an enormous financial settlement in exchange for keeping quiet about the accident, Tom uses his newfound wealth to try and recreate moments from his life leading up to the event in the most accurate, “authentic” way possible based on the few details he recalls. Tom truly believes that reliving these moments via meticulous, precise re-enactments will help him make sense of the trauma he has experienced and provide some sort of concrete insight into what his life looked like (or, even more improbably, may have meant) before it occurred. “He’s trying to make the perfect staging, but doesn’t have a sense of scale,” Fast explains. “He’s constantly obsessed by the details and only at the very end does he sort of get a grander sense of scale of what’s happened.”
While Tom’s desire to rediscover his past is relatable at the outset, the character’s raison d’être becomes a much darker, more violent beast by the film’s end. While critics tend to describe this type of emotional journey as one of the “anti-hero”, Fast refuses to thrust such a reductive label upon his protagonist. “I don’t really think of him as a hero or an anti-hero. I mean, he is the protagonist and he has some qualities that make him, in a way, sympathetic to an audience. He’s been through some hard times and he survives them only to become, in a sense, a different person, but not necessarily an admirable person,” he says. “He’s very possessed by what he does and he does it for what he thinks are his own personal, pure motives. I don’t think we question his commitment to them but, eventually, we do question the consequences. I don’t know if that makes him an anti-hero. I don’t really like that whole terminology anyway.”
There’s no denying that, from a structural standpoint, Remainder has the potential to be extremely divisive, leaving some viewers completely frustrated and others profoundly enthralled by its conclusion; in case you were wondering, reading McCarthy’s 2007 novel won’t make the film that much easier to interpret. “The book ends with [Tom] hijacking a plane and wanting to escape. Once authorities catch a whiff of that, they order the pilot to return this commandeered private jet,” Fast divulges. “Tom threatens the pilot with his weapon and the pilot is literally stuck between two different orders and, as a result, flies in a figure eight in the sky. At that point, the protagonist achieves a kind of bliss, a moment of grace… I literally took that figure eight the plane is flying in and twisted my script into that figure eight.”
If given the opportunity to speak with the director about Remainder’s abstruse ending, don’t bother asking him to decipher it. “This is not what I’ve come here for,” claims Fast. “I’m not going to tell you what the end is supposed to mean. I have my theories, of course, but I want people to think about that and come up with their own… I want them to want to go back and see how the parts fit together and what the timeline is about, and I want them to think a little more broadly about what has happened.”
Photo credit: The Match Factory
Remainder screens February 9 to 11 at the Phi Centre.