Memory (2006) is a low-budget thriller starring Billy Zane (Titanic), with supporting roles from Tricia Helfer, Terry Chen, Dennis Hopper and Ann-Margret. The film was directed by Bennett Joshua Davlin, who also wrote the novel from which the film is based. With a budget of approximately $3.5 million, according to IMDB, Memory seemed to have a very limited theatrical run, then saw a DVD release in 2007.
The premise of Memory is that Dr. Taylor Briggs (Billy Zane), an Alzheimer researcher, is giving a presentation in Brazil when he is brought in to consult on a patient with a bizarre brain affliction. The patient was found among an Amazonian tribe and covered in a red ochre, hallucinating and in a state of shock. His brain scans seemed to show cancerous growths in the memory centers of the brain.
Briggs is looking through the man’s knapsack when he pricks his skin on a safety pin, which in turn exposes him to the red ochre mixture. The patient dies the next day without any determination as to what was wrong with him. Briggs returns to his home in Boston and continues on with his regular work, but he begins to see extremely realistic visions in his sleep. The visions are not from his own memory, but rather from before he was born.
Looking through the knapsack again Briggs find out that the man who died was studying the Amazonian tribe and their belief system and that the red ochre mixture is actually part of a ritual in which tribal members can see visions from their ancestors. Briggs has the red ochre substance tested and it contains traces of DMT (Dimethyltryptamine), considered to be one of the strongest hallucinogens on the planet and which is created in trace amounts within the human pineal gland.
The remainder of the film plays out as a murder mystery in which Briggs learns about the mysterious deaths of little girls that began to happen the year before he was born, in 1971. The memories must come from one of his parents, he is led to believe, but is the connection real or is this just his mind playing tricks on him? This question is even more daunting as Briggs was seemingly raised by surrogates and the women who we believe to be his mother has advanced Alzheimer’s.
Memory answers some of these questions along the way, but after the film is finished the viewer is left with a lingering sense that none of the plot made actual sense. It’s probably more of an exercise in how the human brain can fill in details along the way in order to make sense of something, like the test in which you read a paragraph with all vowels omitted and your brain doesn’t skip a beat.
As an adaptation from a novel, I’d like to believe that the novel was probably more fleshed out, but the film version leaves many unanswered questions. Yet sometimes less is more, and that could be the case with this breezy thriller. Memories are incomplete and imperfect in real life; sometimes they are downright false. So in some ways it makes perfect sense for a film about memories to be equally flawed.
Overall, I thought Memory was perfectly decent for direct-to-DVD fare, which it basically was. Billy Zane does a great job in a lead role, despite some hokey dialogue and the questionable story premise. Supporting actors Tricia Helfer and Terry Chen do a fine job of moving the story along. Dennis Hopper steals whole scenes with his portrayal of gregarious family friend Max. Likewise, Ann-Margret puts to good use her lifetime of acting experience.
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