From Here to Remember Me

31 May

I saw the film Remember Me recently. You may have done, too. For some reason now TV is multi-channel and digital, schedulers feel the need to show a film about twenty times over a month. It’s a sweet enough little film, boy meeting girl and family members being reconciled and so on. I got quite into it and watched right to the end – which is where the problem lay.

*SPOILER ALERT* Please don’t read any further if you don’t want to know the ending of Remember Me.

Remember_me_film_poster

The thing is, for no apparent reason, when things are all going swimmingly, the main character, Tyler, dies in the 9/11 attacks. I was a bit nonplussed, and had a wee look on IMDB where I found that the director, Allen Coulter, had intended the film to end with the attacks all along – he hadn’t just run out of ideas and killed the character off, which is what it felt like.

There had been no indication of the date when the film was set, although it was clearly recent or contemporary. Tyler’s father works in an office in New York, but although the inside of the office was shown a few times, it was not until the planes were coming in that it was revealed that his office was in one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Perhaps that should have made the ending more poignant and shocking, but it didn’t. In fact it made it slightly ridiculous, like a Monty Python sketch where they got bored and just decided to bring in an explosion or wrecking ball or other distraction.

Interesting, at around the same time, I also had the chance to see From Here to Eternity all the way through. It’s one of those films where everyone has seen one scene (the one in the picture below), but no one seems to have seen the whole thing. I only saw it because I was recovering from a nasty stomach bug and had crawled from my bed of sickness onto the sofa to watch some TV.

The reason I mention the two films together is that From Here to Eternity also has a cataclysmic event at the end, but it’s handled much better.

*SPOILER ALERT* – as before, if you don’t want to know what happens, don’t read on.

From_Here_to_Eternity

In the case of From Here to Eternity it’s the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. As with Remember Me, the world-shaking event is not the focus of the film, which is about the rather seedy romances of some soldiers stationed on Hawaii. That’s the first clue, though: soldiers stationed on Hawaii during the Second World War gives an indication that Pearl Harbour is coming, if you care to think about it – but the film is engaging enough that you don’t stop to think about it.

There are other clues, too – the fact that America will probably soon enter the war is brought up a couple of times, and there’s the classic doomed love omen. You know it’s never going to work out, so something is going to go wrong, although you don’t know what. When the attack comes, it’s shocking, but at the same time it feels right, it ties in with the situation as it had been painted. You don’t feel cheated or confused, just a bit foolish for not realising it sooner (or perhaps that’s just me – maybe everyone else gets it a lot sooner).

It reminded me a bit of Cecil Hunt’s advice on solving problems in stories (which I’m sure is in his book Short Stories: How to Write Them, although the specific paragraph is hiding from me at the moment. That book, by the way, is the best and most practical book I have ever read on writing, and I would heartily recommend it.) He says that it’s fine to have the heroine beat the villain through her knowledge of kung fu, for example, but only if you’ve actually mentioned at some point that she knew kung fu, or was taking classes or something. Otherwise you’re left with the much-ridiculed “with a single bound, Jones was free” solution.

Of course, that rule doesn’t always apply. No warning whatsoever can work well for small shocks, as it does in the Final Destination films (a guilty pleasure of mine). Equally, it can be used for humour. In the extremely cool film Swingers, there’s a part where the shy, nervous, awkward hero plucks up the courage to ask the girl to dance with him to a nice safe slow number, and then a jive song comes on. She persuades him to stay on the floor, so he jives away in an understated, shy sort of way, then puts in a few wee turns, then some lifts, and then he’s suddenly the king of the floor, throwing amazing moves and impressing the girl. Afterwards his friends, who are as amazed as the audience, ask him how he could do that and he reveals that he took classes. It’s the “with a single bound” thing, but because it’s meant to be laughable, it works.

The problem with Remember Me is that it’s not meant to be laughable, it’s meant to be extremely sombre and thought-provoking. However, instead of making people think about the effect of 9/11 on ordinary lives, it just makes them think “what, how, huh?” If there had been the odd hint thrown in about the impending tragedy, the audience would have been emotionally ready to accept it, as in From Here to Eternity, but instead they emotionally reject it. Does not compute. Insufficient data.

Keeping the audience in the dark might work for small shocks, but when it comes to big shocks that the story rests upon, it seems that too much surprise undermines the shock rather than increasing it. It reduces it to a clever trick, draining it of all pathos. That, at least, is why I think the ending of Remember Me doesn’t work. You may disagree. Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts, but be aware that this webpage may explode without warning while you are wri

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