“Remember”

 

            Those of us with recent experience caring for dementia patients can recognize all the symptoms and context.  Zev Gutman (Christopher Plummer) wakes up every morning reaching for his beloved wife of many years, and calling her name: “Ruth!” 

            But Ruth isn't there.  Ruth has died, but Zev's dementia is such that he has a hard time accepting a new reality.  He gets up looking for her.  The first time, he's in his nursing home, and the nice lady at the kiosk reminds him that his wife has died, and encourages him to go to breakfast, even though he's still in his pajamas.  Nobody seems to mind, or thinks it unusual.

            Zev is joined at the table by Max (Martin Landau), who's constantly on oxygen and can only navigate in a wheelchair.  It's a little disconcerting, trying to carry on a conversation at breakfast with someone who constantly wears a tube up their nose, but Zev seems to have genteel instincts.  We're never told what he did for a living back when he went to work every day.  Maybe you get to a point where that doesn't even matter any more.  Maybe they're all at that point in their “extended care” facility.

            We expect all these old people with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel to be universally benign and collectively harmless.  But Max, who's still quite sharp mentally despite his physical limitations, has a plot up his sleeve.  He keeps telling Zev that now that Ruth has died, Zev needs to keep the promise he made to himself, and to Max.  He needs to go on a “hit man” mission.

            It's almost laughable, because most mornings Zev can barely get himself to the washbasin.  His environment would suggest that the worst trouble he could get himself in would be to accidentally go in the wrong room and wonder what that other guy is doing in there (this happened to my father), or forget where he was and show up in the hallway without his pants (this also happened to my father). 

But Max has written out specific instructions to Zev, which work great, when Zev remembers to get out the letter and read it.  Max reminds Zev that they're the last remaining survivors of their section at Auschwitz, and Zev needs to go find the commander who killed their families.  He's alive and living under an assumed name in the U.S., and Max has narrowed it down to just a few possibilities, but Zev needs to go find out which man it was, because only Zev will recognize him when he sees him.

            And so Zev escapes the facility by merely walking out at the time Max suggested, when the staff is busy or absent.  Zev gets a cab and makes it to the train station, though when he falls asleep on the train, it's like the slate erases clean again, and he wakes up reaching for Ruth and calling her name and wondering where she is.  But through the kindness of strangers, Zev eventually finds his way to the limo driver who's holding out a sign with his name (Max has arranged this).  Somehow, Zev finds his way to a gun store and buys a Glock (we all hate to think of a gun in the hands of a man with dementia, but we have to admit that it could happen).  Zev even makes it across the border to Canada with an expired passport, again with strangers being nice to him because he appears to be so confused and dottery.  Meanwhile, his grown son, back home, is in absolute panic, and trying desperately to find his Dad who's somehow wandered off the reservation.

            The journey is fraught with everyday challenges, but also filled with surprises.  Yes, by the end, the purpose of the movie “Remember” is served:  we are all reminded.  And we must never forget.

 

Questions For Discussion:

1)                  How many former Nazis associated with prison camps are still alive today?  Should they still be called to account, or left alone because of the “Nuremberg Defense” of just following orders, or just because they're all nanogenarians now?

2)                  Have you know someone with dementia whose awareness would “come and go” randomly? What things were soon forgotten and which things were always remembered?

3)                  If the distant past is becoming more vivid for you than the recent past, is that a sign of oncoming dementia, or simply an exigency of aging?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Supply Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Athens, Texas