Everyone agrees: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) is a maddeningly good film. It is too good to tolerate, nearly. There is no one who does not think this; it is True. But everyone knows it’s missing something, and Kevin Cornish knows what that something is: aliens. But Cornish not only knows this, he’s actually set out to do something about it with Remember: Remember, a convoluted, if not altogether unappealing VR short.
Remember: Remember: What? The blurb from TriBeCa—where the immersive piece saw its world premiere—hardly clarifies:
If our minds are a map of every memory, what do we become when those memories are stripped away? In this cinematic, room-scale VR experience set against the backdrop of an alien invasion, you are a prisoner being brainwashed by a lost love. As you cycle through your memories, you begin to question what is real and what is imagined.
The description from Moth + Flame—the studio behind the piece—is similarly oblique:
You’ve survived an alien invasion and wound up in prison, where you are told your memories aren’t real. Is your mind playing tricks on you, and why does your captor keep appearing in your visions? An immersive look at what we believe and how we can be convinced it isn’t true.
Both at least establish that you play a prisoner. You’re jailed in a circular cell set within a large, alien chamber, and you get the feeling you’re important: I’m locked up, I’m being talked to by a woman with whom the player-character I’m portraying apparently has or had a relationship. Your “lost love,” i.e., the brainwasher, works to pry something—“what happened?”—out of you, taking the time-honored memory-dive as her tactic. She does this several times. One moment you’re in the cell, the next the two of you are ‘in’ a memory, Eternal Sunshine-style, looking at your then-newly purchased, preposterously large loft, for example.
The aliens attack in a separate memory, right around the time your significant other is attempting to break things off with you, which is maybe supposed to mean something. Who am I to say? Nothing works so well to imprint an image on my mind as the bowel-churning feeling that I am moments from being crushed by an incalculable weight whose approach I can but dumbly monitor. Remember: Remember gets this. It dangles an alien spacecraft above you as your companion attempts to put the kibosh on your relationship, threatening to drop it anvil-style on your head before stopping short and unleashing feral aliens instead, which also conveniently halts the break up. Phew.
Why feral? Because they scream and vaguely resemble xenomorphs, only they’re technological and not sticky goo creatures. All the same, they continue to interrupt memories, while in the present your ex resolutely stands outside your cell disputing your recollection of events, the very recollection of the very events she’s forced you to recount. Unbelievable; the nerve; you’ve done what she’s asked yet she remains unconvinced; the sheer audacity of it all; etc. Eventually, an alien snatches her during a memory, which registers as pretty traumatic back in the prison cell and coincides with (or triggers?) her snatching in the present. The end.
Cornish has added aliens to the premise at the expense of narrative intelligibility. I imagine there is a fine and workable idea here, a metaphor about what relationships, memories, and disasters do and are in relation to one another. There’s simply not enough time to satisfactorily communicate that. The memory plunges are largely confusing and ineffective as narrative devices. There are at least four of them, each sandwiched by returns to the present; Remember: Remember would need to last more than eight minutes to justify that and function as a coherent piece of narrative storytelling, which is, I think, what it’s striving to do.
What happens in the piece is difficult to describe without coding as meaningfully opaque, ergo the inscrutable blurbs reproduced at the top of the article. Are you being brainwashed? Are your memories being stripped away? Is this an “immersive look at what we believe and how we can be convinced it isn’t true?” Fuck if I know. Eternal Sunshine works because it explicitly answers similar questions. Remember: Remember had me empathizing with my companion’s confusion: Huh? What happened?
Remember: Remember isn’t yet available to a public and a timeline for release is unclear.