Remainder review: odd and interesting thriller with baffling levels of nuance

Tom Sturridge gets hit in the head, loses his memory, receives millions in compensation – and then things get obtuse

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Director: Omer Fast
Cert: Club
Genre: Drama
Starring: Tom Sturridge, Cush Jumbo, Ed Speleers, Danny Webb, Nicholas Farrell, Arsher Ali
Running Time: 1 hr 43 mins

You would expect an adaptation of a book by Tom McCarthy – author of the difficult Satin Island and C – to deliver something self-conscious and mind-expanding, but the director’s professional history adds baffling levels of nuance to this interesting, flawed arthouse thriller.

A slightly underpowered Tom Sturridge plays Tom, a man no longer in contact with his own past. (We’ll just mention that author, actor and character all bear the same forename and move on.)

We begin with Tom being struck on the head by falling technology while walking through a city street. His lawyer (Nicholas Farrell) explains that, as long as he can forget about the event, he will receive compensation in the millions. This doesn’t prove to be a problem. Tom can barely remember his own name (it’s Tom, remember).

Flickers of the past do, however, come to him. He has, in his head, an image of a large house, with cats outside and a woman cooking liver below. He decides to use his great wealth to reify the memory. With the help of a mysterious fixer (Arsher Ali), Tom buys a property and remodels it in the style of his hazy recollection.


Here’s the thing. Making his feature debut, Omer Fast, an Israeli, is best known for his work in video art and Tom’s project has itself the quality of a conceptual experiment. So we get the sense of a visual artist playing with ideas that he might conceivably have explored in his day job. All this is nicely convoluted, but Fast’s fastidious coolness puts too much distance between viewer and subject. McCarthy’s story is obtuse, but there is room for just a little warmth in here. Though the visions and neuroses remind us of Nic Roeg, there is none of that director’s emotional rawness. Remainder feels like an exercise throughout.

What the film does have is fierce internal logic. Like Shane Carruth’s modern classic Upstream Colour, Remainder, for all its oddness, never drifts into the world of surrealism. There is a rigour to the story that invites us to spend time untangling its various elaborate knots.

Sincere. Original. Peculiar. But hard to embrace with enthusiasm.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist