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Heart-warming and Heart-breaking: A Review of ‘Memory’

by Shamiso Chimbo 

Memory was both a heart-warming and heart-breaking film which sees Sylvia (Jessica Chastain) and Saul’s (Peter Sarsgaard) paths collide as they struggle to put the past behind them and move towards an uncertain future. 

As the movie opens, we are introduced to Sylvia, a single mother working as a social worker who has been sober for 13 years. The film’s leads meet as Sylvia attends her high school reunion and is followed by Saul to her apartment door.  

As the film’s title suggests, the theme of past experiences is integral to the plot. Sylvia struggles with memories of her past and her difficult childhood bleeding into her present.  

It also explores how unreliable people’s memories can be when Sylvia recalls an early experience which poses grave consequences for her relationship with Saul. 

Saul struggles with remembering his recent past but has no issues with reminiscing about his distant memories.  For much of the film, both Sylvia and Saul are struggling with their pasts but as the story unfolds they are both able to provide comfort to each other in the present.  

Motherhood is a central theme explored within the film, too. Sylvia’s daughter, Anna (Brooke Timber), yearns for freedom and is confused by her mother’s overprotectiveness and her reluctance to explain her difficult past. Sylvia has an estranged relationship with her own mother, Samantha (Jessica Harper), which we get small glimpses of until this is confronted later on in the story. 

Sylvia’s sister, Olivia (Merritt Weaver), has a very different approach to parenting and there is marked difference with the freedoms allowed between her household and Sylvia’s. Anna continually pushes to be allowed the same freedoms and to spend more time at her Aunt and Uncle’s house, never quite understanding the reason behind the two different lifestyles.  

Memory offers an interesting look at the relationship between siblings. There is a rift between Sylvia and Olivia who seem worlds apart both physically and emotionally. Sylvia’s apartment is first filmed as cold and grey which is in sharp contrast to her sister’s spacious home with light and airy scenes showing her idyllic family. 

The difference between the two is explicit when Olivia visits Sylvia’s apartment in a limo with their mother.  She reassures her mother that her sister’s living conditions aren’t as bad as they appear on the outside; suggesting that Sylvia’s estrangement from her family has also impacted her lifestyle. Saul similarly has a difficult relationship with his brother Isaac (Josh Charles). 

The climax of the film sees Sylvia confronted by her past when she crosses paths with her mother. It is a heart-wrenching scene when the Samantha is reunited with her two daughters. Family secrets are revealed and the result creates a shift in the relationships within the family; severing some and reforming bonds with others. This is a really powerful scene in the film with a moving performance from Chastain and the aftermath allows the bond between Sylvia and Saul to grow stronger.  

Memory is an emotional film with great performances from both Jessica Chastain, who exceptionally captures the emotional struggles of Sylvia, and Paul Sarsgaard, who is able to balance Saul’s vulnerability with dignity. 

Edited by Emily Duff

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