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A refreshing look at memory and its meaning

“Every Day” features Colin Ford as Xavier and Angourie Rice as Rhiannon

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

Disclaimer: This is not a review of either “Every Day” or “Nostalgia.” Instead, I’m responding to the need to explore what these two narratives made me think about and feel on some level other than the critical. I’ve spoken several times over the years about film’s ability, for avid viewers like myself, to take on certain aspects reminiscent of memory. Not so much a longing to live the celluloid life and experiences contained in the framed narratives we’re exposed to, but a more elemental incorporation of those filmed moments into our own ephemeral catalog. The stories of our experiences of film become tactile and shared as part of our personal culture.

A weekend screening of Michael Sucsy’s “Every Day” (of all things) triggered a reconsideration of this notion for me. On the surface, this young adult fantasy is little more than a superhero dream rendered in an ordinary, everyday fashion. What if you could live a life where every day you woke up in a different body? What if you saw through new and different eyes, saw the same sun, rain showers, faces of loved ones and teachers and shop clerks, the inevitability of life and death, without the traps and limitations of a single body? You could be a brand new you, every 24-hours.

In similar ways, that is the exact promise of film. We step into a darkened space and enter other worlds – at times mundane and intimate, and in other moments epically diverse and beyond our comprehensions – for shorter periods of time. For two hours as viewers, we can be transported into our historic pasts or unfathomable futures, but in the end, we return to our known selves, our lives and fragile bodies. Sometimes, we take lessons from these excursions that reshape or sharpen our perspectives.

I loved how the process of watching “Every Day” differed from my usual critical focus. I wanted to appreciate this idea of waking up in a new human form each day. We speak of privilege, as part of our cultural and social dynamics, but we do so in a rather limited and quite negative fashion. The presence in “Every Day,” which comes to call itself “A,” understands what real privilege means. This chance to truly walk in someone else’s shoes for a day is precious and bears a certain responsibility. You cannot irreparably alter another’s life, even if you don’t completely agree with how that person chooses to live – although a situation arises that forces “A” to act to save a life that would be imperiled after its departure; recalling the medical creed of doing no harm.

Would such an existence be lonely? That depends upon whether what we’re talking about verges on immortality, which I don’t believe it does. Death could occur for “A,” in any body, during the course of any day, which means that “A” lives, at the most basic level, just like anyone else. What we’re talking about is the difference between being human and being a human consciousness.

That has seemingly been a fascinating theme for former music video director Mark Pellington (“The Mothman Prophecies”), whose latest “Nostalgia” dares to ponder how memory defines both our humanity and states of consciousness. The aging population among us – our parents and grandparents who are living longer than the aging of previous generations – lives among collections of things, material pieces and artifacts that grant heft and value to experiences and moments. A professional baseball with a signature from Ted Williams. Love letters postmarked that pin down emotions
with specificity.

Some of those who follow – the sons and daughters who remain to sift through these fragments – answer the siren call of the pieces, but pack them away, so as not to hear and see the reminders every day. Others seek only treasures that can be sold due to greater monetary value.

But the millennials, the grand and great-grandchildren loitering on the horizon, don’t care for the material, the real. They live in virtual states, where memories (photos, music, and personal commentary) have no shape, nothing anchoring them. So, the question which looms for us, is what happens when nostalgia no longer has a physical presence, when it is no longer linked to a moment?

Is that what is happening with film now, as we stream narratives on slim devices we can hold in the palm of our hands? Nostalgia is all about individuals and intimacy, but film, in the past, has joined us altogether via shared experiences. I have preached about film’s potential to create a faithful congregation in the arthouses and multiplexes. Now, I wonder if our collective isolation can and should be the new norm?