Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Tragic in Remember Me

In Jessegirl's latest article, she has written a beautiful and insightful article that looks at where Remember Me takes it's viewers beyond the the obvious and how it serves to bring us all a little closer.

-by jessegirl- September 1, 2010

Tyler reads to his hurt sister, his arm around her as she cuddles into the comfort of his love. Tyler reads about Orpheus:
“ bring the joy of music to earth. His voice rang so pure and true that the fiercest warriors put down their swords and the savage beasts lay spellbound at his feet.” And Tyler’s voice rang so pure and true...

-“D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths”, by Ingrid & Edger Parin D’Aulaire. 1962. p.101

When it comes down to it, Remember Me is a tragedy. Not in an academic sense, and I won’t go into that quagmire of definitions. You’d be bored to tears.
Let’s put it this way. Classical tragedy in a work of art usually means the hero has a tragic flaw which brings about his downfall, like Hamlet or Oedipus. And, although Tyler has many flaws, none of them contribute to his downfall. For me, tragedy always depends on human intent and actions and their consequences.

Look, we recognize tragedy. We just know it, feel it. It pierces the heart and tears at the soul. And stories are breath to us; we can’t exist without them. Tragic stories have existed from the beginning of time.

But when we cry, and we do, and we should, we do it not only for Tyler, for his bereft family, but we do it for our own losses, and then we do it for the fact of Loss. Tragedy moves from the very personal to the universal, and back again. It encompasses everything.

Remember Me is special in that it speaks to the human condition in a way few films do and all of it is wrapped in compassion. I think that’s why it appeals to me so much. In the end Remember Me is compassionate in tone. All the hard questions are raised and we discuss them and ponder them, but we do it while being wrapped in this extraordinary compassion, so that we feel bold enough to proceed. These photos are examples. Tyler is looking at his little sister with such love, even if you knew nothing else about him, you would love him too. And Caroline is basking in his affection.

If we engage fully from our own depths, the humanity will be shown to us. We ache for Diane as she attempts to keep the peace between her son and her ex at the sweets shop. We laugh with Caroline when her brother distracts her from the bullies by entertaining her with silly pseudo-French.

We pity Charles his inability to show his children that he loves them.

We are nauseous with Ally as she absorbs the shock of Tyler’s betrayal.

We know Aiden’s frustration in dealing with his reckless friend, whose behaviour in jail is scary.

After his wife’s senseless murder, we understand Neil’s need to hold his daughter too close.

And, because of the modulated performances the actors gave, we can sympathize with Les as he supports his screwed-up step family,

and Janine, who protects the tightly-controlled tycoon.

And some of us can identify with the irritated receptionist in her plight—good job, Tricia Paoluccio—powerless to defend herself from the boss’s bratty son.

But most of all, we feel everything Tyler feels. Yeah, he’s the bratty son but he’s also the loving brother. And more. We see his flaws but we see his struggles and we—most of us, anyway—sympathize and root for him. Because he is not arrogant or complacent; he tries so hard.

Tragedies are supposed to invoke pity and terror, isn’t that how it goes?
The pity I’ve already talked about. Our sympathy and compassion for the characters, the one who died and the ones who survived. And yes, those of us who bear a personal loss have a precise sorrow to deal with anew and Remember Me retrieves it and shines its bittersweet light on it. To say that this taxes the emotions is to understate. Many people have commented about their personal losses; they couldn’t help putting them out there for the world to know.
-“If you have ever grieved a loved one, you will understand this movie.” [Catherine. Bartyzel]

The terror? Well, it is, specifically, September 11th. Fear of such men. Fear of the randomness. Fear this could happen to us, to ourselves, to our loved ones, anytime.

These strong feelings Remember Me brought out of us, the pity-compassion and the terror-fear, they coalesce into an intense emotional experience. It stays with you and haunts you and it is so present and overwhelming you struggle for days and weeks later to figure it out.
-“I was in a fog, a funk, for the rest of the weekend. I couldn’t shake the mood, couldn’t shake the film. It haunted me. It still does. Can’t remember the last time a film got inside my head and stayed the way this one has.”[Jennifer L. Brevet]

-“...this film...It’s going to haunt me for a very long time. And that’s a good thing. That day isn’t something we should ever forget.”[Nikola. Bartyzel]

So you discuss it with friends—or even strangers—you email, phone, blog, comment. And the reason you cannot get it out of your head is that it got right inside your heart first.
-“I came out of the movie feeling touched and moved and so did others coming out...For the first time ever a stranger talked to me about the movie and how she felt about it.” [chasg. IMDB message board]
-“We were stunned to the point of silence when the credits were rolling. We stood outside the theatre and said a few words, but none of us was articulate enough to discuss it fully at the time...The past week we have been talking, emailing every day about it.” [Mickey. Bartyzel]

-“One of the few movies that really sticks with you and you NEED to talk about it with someone afterward.” [Chris. Bartyzel]

But figuring it out doesn’t really matter so much. What does matter is that because of this emotional experience released inside you—it is always there, waiting—there is hope of healing. You know that Tyler pushes himself in so many ways to feel intensely—Neil choking him, Neil jailing him, the fight, the guilt over Ally, the violent ‘protection’ of Caroline, provoking his father, etc. Internally, he was pushing through barriers so that he could break through to hope. It was not one grand catharsis with Tyler, but he embraced intense emotion and therefore, was able to break through and heal. Yeah, Tyler is our teacher.

So Remember Me’s release of intense feelings within us is cathartic and does what all good tragedies do. It helps heal. People who study these things use words like ‘purification’. Remember Me has this effect; it “rings pure and true”.

I have mentioned that Remember Me’s effect is particularly strong in people who have suffered personal losses. (Yet some of these are not ready for it.) But you don’t need to have experienced loss. Everyone can connect with the tragic and will cry when a movie/book character dies. The human imagination is a potent thing. You need only to imagine—as actors do, by the way. Young people who haven’t known first love still cry at Romeo and Juliet because they can imagine it all. And I think all humans are born with a sense of the tragic, recognize it, respond to it intuitively. It’s in our DNA.

In a way, Tyler’s story is the Story framed by our own personal stories. What do I mean? Well, in the broadest sense, Tyler’s arc is his journey from grieving and coping with his loss, to slowly coming back to life, to acceptance and forgiveness. It is a story with substance all on its own. But then the unthinkable happens. At just that point, where, as Allen Coulter says, “he is released from his battles”, and comes to a serene place, Tyler is murdered. Blind bad luck, or Fate, has him stand at that window.

Now because, to face the bitter truth of his story, he is annihilated, our own stories begin, only we don’t know it for a long time. Some of us return, as I have mentioned elsewhere, because, like Tyler himself at the beginning of his journey, we can not accept the unacceptable. In a strange way, Tyler is our teacher, showing us that even in his bumbling, painful and confused way, he made it. And if Tyler made it to serenity, so can we. We are led back into the film again and again, not just to see him alive again, but also to learn that if Tyler, with all his flaws, can achieve tranquility, then maybe, with all our flaws, so can we.
Do you understand?

So, if Tyler represents every one of those who lost their lives in that terrorist attack, he also represents something more universal. He represents the son you lost, the husband who died, the friend who succumbed to disease, the child you lost through miscarriage, the lover who was killed, the cousin who was raped and murdered in a genocide in a far-off country. I am saying that the meaning of Tyler’s death has escaped the confines of even such a huge event as September 11th. His personal story has become universal, really universal, as all great tragedies are.

Yes, he is the human face of the 9/11 tragedy, which is what Will wrote. But, as Coulter said: “It personalizes that tragedy in a way that, I hope, has a powerful emotional, cathartic effect on the audience that we think of really good tragedies as having.” Tyler becomes, beyond 9/11, the human face of all tragedies, of tragedy in all our lives, of Tragedy. I think this is what resonates so deeply for so many who have seen it. This doesn’t lessen the horror of 9/11 or minimize its impact in any way, because it was through the intensity of that impact that Tyler’s loss was so devastating. But it does acknowledge that such devastation is not only in 9/11, but in Rwanda, Bosnia, Hiroshima, Auschwitz, and so many other places around the world.

It is not a contest about which atrocities were worse; that would be a petty way of looking at it. It is, in the end, not about countries at all. Terrorists could be serial killers, wife abusers, or religious fanatics from any country. It is about Man’s inhumanity to Man, isn’t it?

-“It has a haunting quality and it’s one of these stories which stay with you long after, simmering slowly in your mind and starting whole trains of thought...People react strongly to it and many love it. Its greatest merit is that it makes a collective/universal tragedy humane, intimate and personal through these two families...Ultimately it goes beyond 9/11 to embrace all our lives wherever we are, all the world around, and makes us think about the fragility of life, about love and loss...[Sophie. Bartyzel]

Will, I think, meant it as a wake-up call. Do not forget. And the film has done that. But it has also called up the universal. Somehow, and I don’t know if this was intended—except Coulter’s words seem to imply that—it has, in its quiet, unassuming, almost ordinary way, become an eloquent touchstone for all losses.

This effect cannot be explained and I have remarked on it before, calling it, among other things, ‘an angel in the midst’. Oh man, I can hear the snorts of disbelief. It sounds over the top, I grant you, but for me, it suits best. It fits with what I said earlier about the film’s compassionate tone. As I write this, it occurs to me that that is the key perhaps.

Every character was wounded and flawed, yet was played sympathetically. I felt for every one of them. Other aspects of the film, the score, the cinematography, assisted with achieving this compassionate tone. You care about these people in a personal way, you adopt them, so to speak, and so their tragedy becomes your own. And, in doing that, it becomes universal. People all around the world felt this. International box office and anecdotes tell us that Remember Me touched people everywhere. Its power lies in this universality.

The terrorists didn’t hear Tyler’s voice, which “rang so pure and true”. How far from humanity did they travel in those planes, how far from Tyler’s voice? Would these ‘fierce warriors’ have ‘put down their swords’ if they had heard it? But they were deaf and blind to humanity. Had they seen Tyler’s journey, would they have stopped? Had they seen the lives of the 3000 as intimately as Tyler’s, would they have stopped?

But we must leave the terrorists to God. They will not like it at all, that reckoning, for it will be far different from the virgins they imagine. We leave them. And we follow Tyler and Janine and the others. We follow the voices that ring so pure and true. Or we are fools.

We cry. We weep, silent tears coursing down our cheeks. We sob, shaking with the pain. We lift our eyes to the sky, hoping for guidance, and only shudder for it is from the sky evil came. We lament for the many. But most of all, we remember. We love.

And at the end, having absorbed the tragic, we come to a place too deep for tears.


Anonymous said...

Amazing and true!_chele

beanie said...

Jessegirl, I don't have time to read your aricle now but I will do as soon as I can. Just want to let you know I so admire your visions and how you keep honoring this little masterpiece of a movie.

Heidi said...

I love all the articles by Jessegirl; they are so meaningful. She captures the heart of this movie in such an amazing way.

Anonymous said...

There's some very interesting ideas in this article but (respectfully saying so) something is off with the the writer adressing us so directly ("do you understand ?" "look", or throwing in familiar comments "yeah", "oh man" ), personnally I've found it a bit off and unsettling as I was reading, you have a serious article and all of sudden these little comments seem to pop out of nowhere. I find it a bit curious but maybe it's me not liking the writing style. But that's my personal POV. Apart from that, I don't agree with everything: the comparison with other large-scale historical, although done with respect, is a bit daring and some examples, I think , do not fit. I also find the idea of an "angel" a bit risky, but I understand we will read this in a different way according to our beliefs (or absence of beliefs). I can understand the idea of the attackers on the planes being far off from humanity (good point), but the allusion to this particular detail of their religion (the virgins) sounds to me a bit off again and almost destroyed the article for me. However, I like the way the article develops the idea of the universality of the characters's fate and shows how it affects us personally, and the idea about compassion is beautiful.

Jen L. said...

My God, Jessegirl, you've done it again.

I'm going to tell you something that may or may not surprise you: I don't own the "Remember Me" DVD, and don't know if I will. As much as I love this movie, support it, tell others about it, come to this site to check in with you and others... I don't know if I'll be able to watch it again, as much as I want to. Because I don't want to lose Tyler all over again. I don't know if I can watch the movie again without my heart just aching, knowing what's coming for him and everyone else who loves him. Even just seeing these articles, the pictures -- it's like losing someone you knew, all over again. It stings.
That may be cowardly. I know Tyler, and everyone else in this movie, are fictional characters. But something about these actors' heartfelt performances, the writing, everything about it that "rings true" -- tears at my heart because of the genuine emotion it brings up in me.
I guess what I'm trying to say is because this movie is such a quiet, understated, realistic piece of tragic drama, it affects the viewer powerfully like few movies have in recent years. Everyone can find something they relate to in Tyler's loss, whether they were personally affected by 9/11 or not, just because everything about this movie is so... human.

jessegirl said...

All of you, Jen L., Heidi, beanie, thank you so much. This is my most—I think—possibly controversial (?) piece, as you’ve seen if you’ve read Anonymous’ thoughtful critique.
Jen...It has done this and it affects people differently. Remember some people couldn’t handle it at all? You’ve been very brave. And look at how I’m handling it, writing and writing myself silly. My new discovery, that Tyler is not only a loss but a teacher, makes me look at him differently.

Anonymous #2...Thank you for your well-thought out critique. I appreciate your feedback. I would not, normally, respond so soon to comments posted here, but I thought I should do so while you’re still around. I will try to deal with your concerns.
This might take two or three posts, as they cut you off if you’re too wordy.

First off, this is not a formal, academic essay; if it were I don’t think I’d find a readership at all. It is, though, a serious article, and I think that tone comes across loud and clear. Perhaps it jars, for you, when I put in slang all of a sudden. When I write these pieces, I am aware that I haven’t a clue who makes up the readership, except that the people are likely like Robert Pattinson and his work, and are curious or interested in Remember Me specifically. Beyond that, it could be anybody. That is, perhaps, why I sometimes stick in those things you don’t like; I’m trying to connect with the readers, and perhaps make it as if I were talking to them. It flows naturally when I write, meaning it is not contrived. I mean no disrespect by it. Perhaps it seems ‘off’ if you’re thinking that it’s an academic work. Otherwise, I don’t know what you mean by ‘off’.

One instance of me doing that: ‘Oh man, I can hear the snorts of disbelief’--which was about the ‘angel’ phrase I’d used--I put in exactly because I anticipated some people would think my use of the word ‘angel’ is over the top. There was, among the mostly very positive comments for a past piece, one criticism which said something about being ‘over the top’. Perhaps that’s just my style, but, bearing that past criticism in mind, it tried to address it. Yes, using the word ‘angel’ is risky and that’s WHY I addressed it. It is my way of speaking about the phenomenon, -my way. It is a symbol. Yes, people should and can substitute their own explanation. This phrase suits me, and I will not try to use words that suit some unknown other. And I can only speak in my own way.

jessegirl said...

Part two:
When I said: ‘Do you understand?’ it was not meant in a patronizing way, if that’s the ‘off’ you mentioned. Indeed, the stuff about Tyler being our teacher was an idea which came to me during the writing of the piece; it was a revelation new to me and I thought it might be a place to ask the readers if they were with me, on the same page. It was an idea which took me a while to get used to myself and I guess I wondered if they’d pause there, which they might do if it were new to them too. I, myself, had just understood what I’d written.

The virgins. There’s nothing off about this. It was something widely talked and written about at that time as the terrorists’ own religious belief. Their own belief. I am simply, in a nutshell, saying that whatever deity or higher power one does or doesn’t believe in, IN MY OPINION, would never reward such inhumanity, such atrocious acts with whatever reward the perpetrators themselves believed. I am just talking about what Atta and the others themselves believed. Not to make light of it, but if they’d thought they’d instead get endless supplies of ice cream as some reward, I would have said that.
You know what I’m saying, though. Nothing ‘off’ about it. I’m saying such atrocious acts, wilfully and deliberately carried out, where ever, when ever—that speaks to the other actrocities I mentioned, and the size of the atrocity is irrelevant when we are talking about the principle of the thing—will not be, in my opinion, rewarded by any deity. My opinion.
I’m not sure why the ‘virgin’ reference would almost ‘destroy’ the article for you at all, given what I’ve just said about it.

I’m glad you wanted to engage me in debate but I will try to leave this comments section for others now, and I hope you understand my intent was respectful in the article.

WhyIstheRumAlwaysGone said...

Hi @jessegirl, such a beautiful article again (it could be the start of so many others!). I think you've show very clearly how Tyler (even though as Jen says is a fictitious character) gives a very real individual face to the tragedy and brings it closer to us. The power of this little film is that it is a tribute to the historical context but also goes beyond it and expands so much further. We can all relate to RM through our own losses and fears. I love how you show us how the film in its "quiet, unassuming, almost ordinary way, become an eloquent touchstone for all losses". What more could I say? Thanks again for this beautiful, deep text.

WhyIstheRumAlwaysGone said...

Me again @jessegirl - it's a compldx article and I need to come back to it several times to absorb all of it. I particularly like this: "I am saying that the meaning of Tyler’s death has escaped the confines of even such a huge event as September 11th. His personal story has become universal, really universal, as all great tragedies are." We've already discussed it and this morning as I'm reading it again I find it rings so true. People who know little about 9/11 (maybe because they were too young at that time, maybe because they live outside the States and have not been affected in the same way, etc.) are nevertheless deeply moved by the film. They understand it's in a specific historical context and a tribute to that event, but they are really, truly moved more by the story of this young man and his family. They relate to it in a personal way and that is why people cried in the theaters... they cry for their own losses, they cry for our human condition and the fragility of our lives.
My 15 year old niece did not know about 9/11 and she was very moved by the film even if she did not really understand where Tyler was at the end and what was going to happen. And then she wanted to know what had happened, so I explained. So the film served its purpose as far as she is concerned: she learned about 9/11, and she was touched by Tyler's story. The film brought it home to her in a way no history book or newspaper article about 9/11 could probably have done.

olivia said...

Jessegirl-Thank you for your beautiful essay. I too am one who will forever have a special place in my heart for this movie. I am grateful to the whole cast, crew, director, screenplay and all others I may have left out. Add to that Rob's loving portrayal of Tyler. I was speechless at the end of the film. Crying but with a smile on my face. A smile that Ally was on that train with a glimmer of a sweet memory on her face. That everyone was touched by Tyler, his beautiful sister, parents, friends... and me. I lost my husband several decades ago and this movie has touched me as very little else in all those years. It captures the essence of the "compassion" and "strength" one holds inside of oneself after such a life changing experience. The music, the pacing, the photography, everything in this tremendous film adds to the emotion, message, and touch of loss and the connections we make while living.
I have great faith that this film will be talked about for many, many years, with the circle of people it touches continuing to grow quietly, gently, and meaningfully. Once again, a hug for you for your beautiful essay on RM and tragedy. And a hug to everyone involved in making this film. I cannot express what it truly has given me.

Fiona said...

jessegirl I've read all your articles since they began to be posted here and I particularly love this one. Great job, keep on the good work!

HeartThePretty_EvenMore said...

Jessegirl - once again your writing is insightful and spot on. Thank you for sharing.
As the anniversary approaches, the feelings are more poignant. We should never forget all those who were lost that day. Tyler put a face on one story of a life ended so abruptly. There were so many others.

Anonymous said...

This is an amazing article, I've just discovered this site and am really glad to find such an insightful analysis. Outstanding really. I've only seen RM once and I had never thought about it in this way. Beth

solas said...

Jessegirl, thanks once again for an article that is spot on and clear. It is completely apropos that in a piece on tragedy, and how we relate with our own experiences and live those of others, and how universal it is to each of us, you relate to the readers more directly, as if in an I-You relationship, rather than the I-it of scholarly detached pieces.
Your articles and comments ought to have been the ones read by potential viewers/cinema guests when Remember Me was playing; your depth and analysis would have enabled an appreciation of a film that ought to have been appreciated by so very many more.

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