I would like to dedicate this piece to those who had the vision, courage, respect and integrity to bring this beautiful film to the screen, so that the sorrow of September 11th and those innocents who died there will not be forgotten.
-jessegirl- July 26, 2010
“You must have been watching another movie!”
It is curious how a masterpiece like Remember Me has not been better received by critics. Even more puzzling is how determined they were to use their influence to actively keep people away, apparently based on the film’s ending, the touted ‘twist’. Clap for the critics, who did this job particularly well. Domestically, RM’s (RM=Remember Me) gross was lower than it could have been. Given that RM wasn’t a blockbuster, huge box office was never expected.
However, the majority of those people who did go to see it were baffled by RM’s poor critical ratings; many viewers disagreed markedly with the critics. The refrain echoed by so many was: “You must have been watching a different movie.” I’ve addressed this disconnect elsewhere but here I’ll tackle the thorny issue of the movie’s ending.
I hope I do this topic justice but it is really too large to cover in a little piece like this. I’m aware that I cannot cover all bases; I just hope I speak to the important ones adequately. At the end, I’ve listed the sources from which I obtained the quotes. The three articles—Brevet, Bartyzel and Reesman—and their comments, are a rich source for discovering rare critical impartiality and substantive viewer comments. I participated and it was an interesting experience. Laremy Legel’s review is one of the best.
What were the critics thinking?
Tone: I must admit that wading through even a portion of many of the ill-conceived ‘reviews’ was nauseating. The tone of most of these negative reviews is so glib, off-handed, ill-thought out, and dismissive, as if the film is not worth our time. The disrespect splats out, a rotten tomato indeed, but it does so without any substance or given reason. Unsupported rejection. There seems to be a built-in contempt pervading many. It is, if nothing else, not professional. Where did this attitude come from? Read on.
Assumptions: It was obvious from what they said that many critics started from the assumptions that the film was a romance and the target audience was teenage girls, specifically ‘Twihards’.
And so we get Rich Cline (Shadows on the Wall.co.uk) saying RM is “aimed at teen girls and no one else”. Critics didn’t, upon viewing, revise their opinion after they’d realized poor marketing had categorized it incorrectly. As professionals they should be able get past this, and judge films according to what they are. Some critics even cited how effective the marketing was: Alice Tynan (The Vine.com.au) says: “the marketing [targeting Twihards] has done its job well.”
So, instead of setting the record straight, many just let the misconceptions stand. Some critics took this further by predicting how audiences would react. The following instances show they insult not only the film but also future audiences:
Alistair Harkness (Scotsman.com) says: “It will strike some as grossly exploitative and offensive and slay others as poignantly tragic.” Really? He knows what we will feel? Who is being offensive?
Rich Cline says: “will get on the nerves of most viewers...” This pre-emptive strike is insulting. Meanwhile, Neil Smith (Total Film.com) “non-worshippers will want to...” and “Robert Pattinson’s acolytes will ensure solid returns”. He presupposes a Twilight fan base will attend. Alice Tynan predicts similarly:“Twihards will no doubt flock to the cinema...”
Ah hah! Eureka! Now we have it, the reason for the snotty and snide tones. It’s Edward!
Biases: And so we come to the heart of the problem, the prejudices so many critics seem to mainline. There are two major ones.
First, I have come to the conclusion that the repeated bashing of the ending of Remember Me by critics is a red herring, a diversion, deflecting us from critics’ real gripe, Robert Pattinson and his meteoric rise to fame. And I’m not the only one who’s figured this out. “I think that it isn’t so much the 9/11 reference that irks the critics but that Robert’s popularity is an enigma to them.” [Sling. Bartyzel] And: “they are simply looking for a reason to hate the film as it’s become fashionable to hate on Robert Pattinson.” [Hermia. Reesman.]
This Twilight Backlash is, in this case, really venomous envy. Some countries call this brand of bias ‘the tall poppy syndrome’. Never underestimate the power of envy working within. Critics attack Pattinson with their weapon, the ability to influence public opinion. “Take that,” they say gleefully, “no one will come watch your movie now. We can taint and bend the public’s perception so people will think the ending of RM is shameful. Take that, pretty boy.” Criticizing in the negative because of envy is worse than giving a movie a chance because the lead actor appeals to you. Lashing out at this actor just because he gained popularity seemingly without paying his dues is as irrational as liking a film just because Pattinson is in it. (RM was never meant to be a ‘vehicle’ for Pattinson; it is well known that he signed on to the project long before the Twilight phenomenon became evident.)
The second bias is sexism. It has to be said. Critics think it’s easy to dismiss supporters because they are women, women who love this puissant actor, damn it. They take aim at hormonally-charged teenage girls—who, by the way, make up only a portion of his fan base—figuring everyone will agree this demographic can’t possibly be right. (And adolescent males of all ages who love Transformers know quality?) There’s more to be said on this topic but I’ll leave it. The bottom line is that many critics think sneering at women’s appreciation is socially acceptable.
Gotcha! Given what I’ve covered, critics’ issue with being blindsided by the shocking ending of RM seems minimal. Oh man, did they tell us all about that ending, which ‘unfairly’ came out of left field. Aw, geez, the critics didn’t see it coming and so their egos were a tad bruised. Uh huh. They have an overarching need to appear smarter than both moviemakers and audiences. With too many of them, their own cleverness eclipses the impartiality and openness they should bring to their work.
Objections: The ‘twist’-
MORE AFTER THE JUMP
Let’s dispense with the vitriolic drivel first. When the camera zoomed out on Tyler—who was standing at that window in the North Tower on a cloudless September day—and then the screen went blank, all hell broke loose in critical circles. Here they come, the words: manipulative twist, tacked-on, tasteless, offensive, cheap way to get emotion and sympathy from you, lazy cop-out, random shock value, shameless, exploitative, trick. Critics wondered whether the screenwriter knew how to end his story and latched onto this event to give it unearned gravitas. Tynan wrote that RM had the “bad taste to use the tragedy as a trump card...[that it] blatantly leeches off the suffering of others”.
This is the major objection and it speaks to both the filmmakers’ intent and audience response. But did the critics bother to find out? It’s high time we give the filmmakers some say.
Brad Brevet did, by interviewing screenwriter Will Fetters. Will was inspired to write his story after he’d read 9/11 obituaries, so the ending was not tacked on as an afterthought. September 11th was present from the beginning. His purpose was to give a fictional victim’s story so that the tragedy would be personalized. This has turned out to be the most sensitive way into the tragedy, a tour de force for this young writer.
More to the filmmakers’ intent: Producer Nick Osborne wrote a dedication, reproduced here:
“I would like to dedicate this film to all those who died on 9/11. Through the making of Remember Me, everybody involved constantly sought to approach 9/11 with sensitivity and respect and I hope that those directly affected by that day will sense that. It was always out intention to humanize those who lost their lives on 9/11 through the story of one person, Tyler, a young man who got up one morning with no more hope than to lead a fulfilling life. I suppose my hope is that, if nothing else, this film reminds audiences 9/11 is more than an event, that its core it was about decent, wonderful people whose lives were tragically cut short.”
At the RM press junket in London, Osborne told us that they had New Yorkers and cops affected by the events to consult. These people “fell in love with the script, all felt like it was an important story to tell and they gave it their stamp of approval.”
Summit arranged a special screening of RM for families of the victims of 9/11, because their reaction was of crucial importance to the studio. The response was overwhelmingly positive and people were not offended. In fact, they’d wanted something like RM, so that their loved ones wouldn’t be forgotten. Now this is the key audience which would have a right to use those derogatory words if anyone does.
Everyone, from director Allen Coulter to Robert Pattinson, was committed to getting this story made in the right way. The sensitivity and respect for the story and the care in handling the event is so very evident when you hear these filmmakers speak of the project. This kind of attitude is diametrically opposed to that which many reviewers cavalierly pinned on them. Critics abused their responsibility in ignoring the intent of those who made the film on the sensitive matter of the Ending.
No piece of art has 100% response either way, and there are vocal dissenters, yet so many viewers of RM were so positive. The comments are sometimes very perceptive and profound and I cannot do them justice here. But I will quote a few so that you get a picture.
-“I’m a New Yorker and I was not insulted by the ending or offended in any way. I was truly touched. ...It has been a long time since we have seen a film touch us so deeply.”[poohbearcubz –Bartyzel]
-“I just came from New York and watched the movie with New Yorkers. By and large they were NOT offended. There were even people who lost family that day—also NOT offended. They said that the film finally broke what seemed to them to be a long silence. They were grateful that someone is making an effort to remember. Never presume to speak for another person on their behalf....Make the effort to ask them. I did.” [IMDb. RM message board...Opinion of a New Yorker]
-“...ending wasn’t gratuitous, it wasn’t perverse in its attention to detail, and it wasn’t overly preachy. It left me feeling much like I did on that day –both confused and shocked by an act that seemed so calculated to kill innocents who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.” [Hermia...Reesman]
-“I lost a brother in 9/11 and I knew going in to see the movie what it was about, and I can assure you, I’m no Einstein. So I find the excuse that the audience needs to have it spelled out to them...less than valid...The film was tasteful, respectful and a fitting tribute to all of those lives lost that day, including my brother...New Yorkers...I think in their hearts they know the film was made with the best of intentions and they appreciate the love and care that went into it. The rest of the ‘critic’ world is just too blind and cynical to get that.” [John. Brevet]
The Shock: Reaction to Reflection
Okay, the ending was a gut-punch shock. No argument. Here is the blindside. Just like 9/11. It came out of the blue.
The knee-jerk reaction to shock is anger. Because it is such a shock, people initially think the ending is tacked on. The shock itself annihilates thought because it subsumes everything momentarily. That’s what shocks do. They anger because they make us vulnerable. So we criticize, feel like we’ve been manipulated; we feel stupid and we don’t like it. Critics especially don’t like to feel blindsided because they’re supposed to be too clever to miss the clues.
But if you allow yourself a little time to process, then the shock gives way to reflection. Whether their reaction was genuine or not, so many critics didn’t get past the reaction stage before they submitted their ill-thought out reviews.
One IMDb commenter reported that her husband: “came out feeling betrayed and called it a ‘mean’ movie. But during the ride home, he said he understood his initial reaction and that the story couldn’t be done any other way. This is the extra step of reflection that some people skip—they stay stuck in anger and lash out at the filmmakers for the ‘cheap twist’.” Now this is a helpful insight and the kind of thinking one would think critics should employ.
Also, the filmmakers wanted us to feel angry and shocked, but at the event. Instead, reviewers transferred their anger to the filmmakers, a ‘shoot the messenger’ mentality.
Foreshadowing and clues:
There is a lot of this in RM. The premonitions, the ominous tone, in so many ways we are clued in to the tragedy to come. But the clues are kept subtle and are set aside during viewing because we are engaged with the characters and their struggles. Therefore, we forget the clues, or they don’t really register (which is good, because that would have seemed contrived). The clues are almost subliminal, again, because we are absorbed in the lives of the characters (and this is evidence that the actors did a great job). We are thereby set up for the shock. This is intended, but it is not cheap. It was always the end of the journey. We were meant to become invested in Tyler’s world so that we would mourn him, and finding clues all the time would be a distraction which would take away from what is important.
This viewer saw some clues early on: “But then I got so engrossed in the story that I forgot about it until I saw Tyler standing at that window (how’d they do that, anyway?)” [Astrid, Reesman] Well, Astrid, that is the mark of mastery.It is a testament to the filmmaking skill that we get so caught up in the story, we forget clues and foreshadowing which we’d previously noticed. Only on the day, when the clues knock you over, do you remember. Betrayal? Yes, but by the day, not the film.
To spoil or not to spoil? Well, it’s a catch-22 and some critics won’t be happy either way. If you know 9/11 will happen, you’ll be waiting for it, which would take away the story and the shock, and that would ruin the film because you wouldn’t feel the shock everyone felt that day. It is necessary.
Another objection raised was that it is too soon to portray this event. Too raw. Yet there have been other tragedies worldwide which were used in films shortly afterwards. And if you read audience remarks, especially those of the victims’ families, they want people to remember. They think the event is fading from memory already, and RM is a good way to remember. Listen to a few of their voices:
-“I think 9/11 is fading in the American ‘everyday’ consciousness and we must not let it. I think this film helped me remember the event in a very real way and the timing is perfect. I almost feel as though I can now understand the enormous loss better having viewed this film; presented so powerfully, honestly and subtly. I’m a New Yorker...The critics have been so off on this film, and so many reviews have said the same things. I have to wonder where it’s coming from...What I don’t understand is why a different and touching movie such as Remember Me was so unfairly crucified in the press.” [Joleen – Bartyzel]
-“As someone who lost a loved one on that day, I felt this film was well done and was a great reminder to cherish every day we have with our loved ones. The people who died that day were not just a statistic. They were real people with real lives and this film does a great job of depicting that.” [Grania28, IMDb message board, thread : ‘Disrespectful... June 23, 2010]
Lest We Forget
An unforeseen effect of this film is its meaning for young people. It became clear to people taking their teen children that some of the young people didn’t know about 9/11. It is ironic that the supposedly targeted teen audience didn’t understand the 9/11 references and needed a ‘history’ lesson.
-“....taking my 15 year old niece...[European] My niece loved the film but unfortunately did not get the ending...she thought Tyler had committed suicide and did not understand why or how....She was confused...she was only 6 when 9/11 happened. I had to explain it to her...She wanted details...She listened very carefully. It was hard for her to take it all in, to imagine the victims’ fates...but she needed to know. She was very moved and interested by what I could tell her of the tragedy and now she wants to know more...” [Kim, Brevet. April 29]
-“Took my 16 yr. old daughter....In school she was taught about 9/11 but she said that only now, after seeing RM, she could ‘feel’ the impact it had on the thousands of ordinary people in New York. Next school year...she’ll surely ask her teachers in high school to show the movie as she’s convinced that every student has to see this little masterpiece...So: to those reviewers who earned their money easily while smashing a movie with only a few words and without any form of tact: you provoked a wave of solidarity all over the net on many sites...a solidarity so strong and moving that this reaction alone already means that the movie is a success.” [Anne, Brevet. May 10]
Effect on Audiences
There isn’t room here to share all the stories. Please visit the posts at the end of this article for them. They are, whether taken singly or altogether, simply astounding.
-“Watched this with my girl last night...We’re Australians...was 12 [in 2001]...The story...was extremely engaging....You could feel it as if that was you, that you were there or if not, that you were relating so deeply to it. Then suddenly, just as things start to come together, it all falls dramatically apart. As soon as ‘Sept. 11th’ was written on the chalk board, suddenly everything felt taken from beneath me. I finally understood the tragedy that Americans felt...it was a truly unique and eye opening experience...You could tell everyone was affected in our cinema, as no one left for quite a while, we were all just struck, sunken into our seats sobbing. As if we lost someone.” [Benjamin. Brevet. March 17]
The Ending and the Real Ending-
I’d like to go back to the ending. Allen Coulter, the director, said on the commentary to the DV D, that they “wanted to be respectful”, that the audience would “never see anything except reactions [of the characters]”. Now that is the tasteful and eloquent way of handling the shock. It didn’t show the violence. It focused on Tyler’s loved ones and their loss. That’s what the tribute montage—the real ending—is all about. And that was the filmmakers’ point.
The shocking ‘twist’ ending everyone refers to is not the ending. It is the climax, which sits within a framework. The outside frame is the requiem montage, the tribute to the dead. Coulter shows only those characters affected by the loss, their grief, not that of the nation or officials. He keeps it to the personal, keeps to the spirit of Fetter’s story.
The focus is on how the death affected the people who loved Tyler. And because the viewers also know only Tyler, they need the requiem too. It is about individual losses, how individuals were affected. It’s all about putting names and faces to the losses. A commentator on a message board expressed it this way:
“...when I reflect on what I remember about that year was the amount of numbers I heard. ..Numbers, numbers, numbers. But now—mainly due to this movie—I think not of numbers but of faces, faces, faces.” [Shazbott89, IMDb]
-“We focus so much on the tragedy, we lose sight that we lost 3000 individual stories that day. Remember Me brings that into focus. We are remembering the event, but we need to remember the ‘me’s’.” [Lisa – Robsessed. Bartyzel post]
“Everything narrowed into what this story was meant to be, meant to do.”**
Tyler, the sacrificed one, was the viewers’ loss, OUR loss, our specific loss—unless we were one of those who lost their real loves there in 9/11. It’s not about numbers, not about 3000. It’s about 3,000 specific people. But the film, in concentrating on just one, our Tyler, brings home the tragedy in a way no other rendition could have. We relate on a personal level. That’s the power of Remember Me.
When we cry—as so many viewers, men, women, teens, older people did—when we cry, it is for him, because all huge loss is always personal. The filmmakers brought the huge event to us through the only conduit that could reach the depths of our hearts, that murdered being, the one we’d grown to love. That is the only way we would know how very great the loss is.
We must not forget. We must not forget 9/11. We must not forget that one particular life that was taken from us. We must not forget that one life, Tyler Hawkins, the fictional embodiment of the victims. It is not statistics. It is names and faces. He is our brother, our son, our friend, our lover. So when Tyler looks out that window and the camera zooms out so that there will be no mistake as to his fate—he stands at ground zero in the North Tower, just exactly where the first plane hit—the shock stuns until we are covered in tears. As my fellow commenter said of that moment: “Everything narrowed into what this story was meant to be, meant to do.” [**InstantKarmaGirl. -see below] Exactly. It narrowed to that still point, our Tyler, with that look of hard-won acceptance on his face, his soul shining like a beacon for us. That’s all. And that is enough. It is huge.
The critics are irrelevant. Will, Nick, Allen, Rob, and all the rest, who gave us this amazing gift, they are the only ones who matter. And for some of us, the story did what it was meant to do.