Jessica Chastain & Peter Sarsgaard Star in ‘MEMORY’

Poignant and powerful, Memory is a compelling drama that brings us on the journey of a hard-nosed, budding romance. This unorthodox love story is made impossibly thorny by, as the title alludes to, the memories of both characters.

Written and directed by Michel Franco, whose name you might recognise from previous successes such as ‘Sundown’ and ‘New Order’, this is a film that challenges the conventional and the logical and gives a thought-provoking spin on the reliability of our minds.

Starring Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard, the film is centered around what appears to be the contrasting lives of two characters, Sylvia and Saul.

Chastain delivers an exceptional performance of Sylvia, a social worker who is a recovering alcoholic and from the outset, quite clearly grappling with demons from her past. On the other hand, Saul, (a role that won Sarsgaard the award of ‘best actor’ at the 2023 Venice Film Festival) is an unassuming yet established man suffering a battle with dementia.

Sylvia lives in a rough and ready part of Brooklyn, where she feels obliged to triple lock her doors, while Saul lives in a well-kept townhouse on a tidy street that looks fitting for the Upper East Side. Despite this, their worlds collide when Saul has a dementia-induced lapse of sanity and follows a very unsettled Sylvia home from a high-school reunion party.

From the outset, there is a gripping sense of over-protection and paranoia that emanates from Sylvia. Between the strict security systems and her specific requests for a female electrician, we get the impression that Sylvia is a woman who holds no trust in men. This is certainly not helped by Saul, the unstable stranger who has shadowed her through the night and now stands outside of her house like an old flame seeking reconciliation.

The plot develops to reveal that at 12 years of age, Sylvia was sexually abused by a friend of Saul’s, and claims to recall Saul as a fellow culprit. When it is revealed that her memory has failed her, their complicated love story begins. Despite being cleared of any wrongdoing, it is never revealed exactly why Saul followed Sylvia home that night. Perhaps it is the simple matter of pain recognising pain.

While the film’s title seems to be a direct reference to the sufferings of dementia, it covers all aspects of memory, both its positives and negatives. To Saul, a person who no longer holds control of his memory, it is something to be cherished and protected at all costs. On the other hand, we watch Sylvia deteriorate as her childhood trauma is brought fresh to the front of her mind. Her indestructible recollection of her youth has a very apparent, adverse effect on her present life. Chastain portrays this perfectly with obvious yet polite discomfort during the awkward scenes of intimacy between Sylvia and Saul. What’s more, a memory cannot always be trusted- the clouded collection of tragic events that underlie Sylvia’s mind ultimately leads her to accuse Saul of a crime he didn’t commit.

Finally, there is the controversial topic of the love story itself. As charming it may seem, we have to question whether the budding romance is appropriate, considering Saul’s deteriorating condition. Should Sylvia know better than to uproot a vulnerable man into new surroundings, with nobody to care for him during the day? On the other hand, it is apparent that Sylvia is still in a state of healing from her childhood trauma. Both are suffering from diseases of the mind that defy the norms of a suitable relationship. However, love isn’t logical, and we can’t help but root for the couple regardless.

Time may be ticking at a faster rate for this love story, however, it leads us to think- should we sacrifice our current happiness for what will inevitably come to us all?

In conclusion, Memory tells a tale that transcends the boundaries of societal norms. The impossible love story between Sylvia and Saul is one that is disconcerting yet charming, perplexing yet beautiful.

MEMORY is in UK and Irish cinemas from 23rd February

This is a film we would highly recommend going to see.

Josie Wilkins

Josie is a Journalism graduate from Galway, Ireland. In her free time, she writes for her blog, Naturally Fuelled (@josiewilkins on instagram). When she isn't writing, she enjoys playing the one song she knows on the piano, 'I Giorni', saving the postman from her aggressive Shorkie, and defending brussels sprouts as an all-year-round snack!