The Past of the Future.
Body, Sensation, and Memory in Remembrance

Britta Timm Knudsen

The first image of Remembrance is a medium shot of a man standing in a railway station. The first words of Remembrance are those pronounced by a woman in a flashback scene, the first of a sequence of three flashback scenes, all with the same woman speaking three different phrases: "You have to choose everything very carefully," "My name is Aurora," and "Think it over." After these flashbacks we return to the present narrative time of the film and the image of the man in the railway station, his eyes closed. The scene is now enigmatically illuminated and we return back in time to the beginning of the narrated time. We recognize from the clothes of the characters that the setting of this feature film is in the forties. Later on-in a restaurant scene-we are no longer in doubt. Soldiers in uniform and the threatening remark made by one of the soldiers to Alfred-"Would you not like to wear a uniform?"-tell us that the action takes place during World War II.

Four different kinds of locations frame the action. The locations are all public or semi-public: the railway-station, a dance hall, an auditorium, and Alfred's dressing room just after his performance, where Miss Isaacs looks for him to thank him for his performance. Calling this "action" requires a broad definition of this term, as what is going on is not action in the narrative, goal-oriented sense of the word; the action taking place is either a dialogue between Alfred and Aurora-an intimate, close dialogue in which we pay more attention to the things not said than to the words that are spoken-or Alfred in the lonely position of recalling the past. Alfred recalls certain scenes and this act of recalling causes him to make the decision to join the Allied Intelligence. The scene recalled is one in which Aurora asks: "Alfred: What does my name taste like? "

Taking a closer look at the scenes framing the story of Remembrance, we are able to discover what this film is about: time, memory, and sensation; it is about a man who is unable to forget (in the work of J. L. Borges, this seems to be the worst punishment of all). However, I don't think that this film is about deploring the ability to remember. Nor do I think it praises the ability of remembering (it seems rather painful for Alfred to remember all these details). This film shows us the connection between sensation and memory through the body as a membrane.

Alfred's body has several functions, depending on its situatedness in time and space. When his body is situated in space it has difficulties orienting itself: it becomes a surface or a receptive screen for all kinds of sensation, a kind of radar-overwhelmed by all the sensations possible in the near environment. Situated in space, his becomes one with its surroundings. The sensual body is absorbed in the moment and is unable to distinguish between itself and the things around it. But when the body is situated in time it is able-by recalling/representing the past-to position itself in space.

As a body only situated in space it is a body which functions like a camera; it documents the things taking place. On the other hand, Alfred's body also possesses a "normal subjecthood"; it is a body that distinguishes itself from its surroundings enough to be attracted to them, capable of focusing on and choosing the worthwhile sensations. And the differentiation takes place through the memorial activity of representation.

Alfred's body also completes the formal function of translation: it translates one regime of sensation to another: "this dress is very loud," "this place is so... rich" show that the sensations cross over and transport signification from one regime to another. Thus, in conclusion we can say that the body not only documents the sensations, but also serves as a symbolic sign machine, able to translate from one register to another.

The way in which Remembrance as a film represents the mental activity of memory and the corporal activity of sensation can help us clarify the relation between them. The film viewer sees the whole film in flashback-through the memory of Alfred. What the spectator gets to see is the representation of some scenes in Alfred's memory. And the time represented deals in a thematic way with the effort of remembering: we see Alfred Graves giving his show in front of an audience, in an empty theatre, exhibiting his skill of remembering all the words that the audience utters-forward and backward. And we see him in the middle of an "ocean" of sensations, in a dance hall full of people in which he is about to drown. And the only way he can keep from drowning is through remembering, representing to himself the sensations he has experienced. The ability to represent is a means of finding one's way through sensual chaos. Drowning signifies living only in the presentness of sensation, while representation through memory connects the past to the future. In the last illuminated scene we see Alfred recalling past scenes to decide what to do in the future. The senses are in this way directly connected to the existential or ethical choice he is going to make. The body located in space (in a phenomenological way) is also a body located in a concrete historical and cultural situation in which decisions have to be made. And the two sides-the sensual aesthetic side and the political ethical side-do not conflict. On the contrary: the sensual commitment is the reason why he joins the Allied Intelligence.

What did we learn about the relation between sensation and memory from the literary experience according to Marcel Proust in A la recherche du temps perdu? To remember something through a sensation is not only to repeat in the present something that was already there in the past (the traditional mimetic point of view), nor does a present sensation simply construct the past (the constructionist/postmodern point of view); on the contrary, Proustian remembrance does not remember anything but is rather an initial representation of the real, the real emerging to the conscious mind. Again: sensations can only be focused-felt as real-if they pass through the memory. It is in the filmic repetition of a lived experience that the sensations appear as real, or it is only at that moment they become real.

The aesthetic experience
It is painful for Alfred to be this camera documenting everything. Being this camera is on the contrary a way of losing his body to space or becoming a transparent thing in space. Alfred has aesthetic experiences through memorial representations, experiences that we are invited to observe twice in the film. The first time is in the opening scene in which Alfred begins to recall the immediate past and we see him illuminated divinely. The viewer and Alfred get a vision (of the past), a vision that leads him to make a choice concerning the existential dilemma in which the encounter with Aurora has put him: shall he go on as before or shall he join the cause (and Aurora). And the second time takes place in the dance hall: Alfred and Aurora look closely at one another and suddenly the sound is removed from the scene. This sudden silence-which clearly affects the film viewer's sensation of the film-becomes a mute expression of his focus on her. Alfred is a camera who has been moved by the vision of Aurora. When Alfred sees Aurora for the first time, we witness him stumbling over her name, hesitating when confronted with her face. It is perfectly clear for the viewer that Alfred not only sees Aurora, he is also moved by his vision of her. This being-moved is expressed by the body. The choice that Alfred is going to make concerning whether he will continue using his skills to do performances or he will use them in the service of the cause is not a choice between love and social responsibility-a choice we have often seen represented in films-because Alfred can have both, or more precisely, the cause presents itself through a loveable face (Aurora). In Lacanian terms this signifies that the symbolic Other (the instance which calls on the singular subject to commit to society) and the (beloved) other merge. Normally we witness the hero choosing between duty and love, but in this case Alfred's love of the face of Aurora comes to represent his love of the Cause. His sensual fascination of the face of Aurora makes him choose the Cause.

Remembrance thus seems to be about memory as a way to keep from sensually drowning in space. But on the other hand, memory as the faculty of representation reconnects us sensually and mentally to the world. Senses and ethical standards are not represented in the film as contradictory forces in the human mind; on the contrary, Remembrance combines affect and political commitment in a strong and direct way.

Caillois, Roger. "Mimicry and Legendary Psychastenia" in October, 31, Winter 1984.

Rosset, Clément. Le Réel, Traité de l'Idiotie. Paris: Minuit 1977.

Ricoeur, Paul. La Mémoire, l'Histoire, l'Oubli. Paris: Seuil 2000.

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