Review: ‘Memory’

Jessica Chastain And Peter Sarsgaard Give Career-High Performances In Michel Franco's Drama About Surviving Past Trauma

Director Michel Franco takes his time delicately unwrapping his characters’ pasts in Memory. Actions implemented early on in the film go off with expert precision and impact by the end with the help of Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard’s brilliant performances. By the end, you are completely enraptured in one of the most well-done and moving films of the year. 

We first meet Sylvia (Chastain) at an AA meeting for her sober anniversary. She’s quiet as the group goes around wishing her continued success for herself and her daughter, Anna (Brooke Timber) who is present. Franco then takes us through Sylvia’s disciplined routine of afterschool pickups, drop-offs, and meticulous house cleanings. Dedicated to her sobriety, she is very strict with her teenage daughter and spends her working hours as a social worker for adults with disabilities. 

When she accompanies her sister (a superbly understated Merritt Wever) to a high school reunion, a man approaches her with a smile. She stares ahead, before eventually getting up and leaving to go home. He follows her from a distance, ending up at her door where he spends the night outside. The morning after she tentatively approaches him to call and gets his name, Saul (Peter Sargaard). 

Franco doesn’t explain his characters’ behavior right away like a lot of lesser directors would. It is eventually revealed that Saul suffers from dementia and Sylvia is still grappling with childhood sexual trauma. In fact, she originally accuses Saul of being one of the perpetrators before being corrected by her sister. 

To make up for it, she feels obligated to take Saul’s brother and niece’s (Josh Charles and Elsie Fisher) offer up to care for him during the day. Franco brilliantly draws out the intimacy of everyday moments between his two characters from watching movies together to doing dishes. It’s a masterclass in palpable tension and character building. 

Here, Sarsgaard solidifies himself as one of the greatest character actors of our time. His Saul is subtle but still heartbreaking, giving one of the best performances of the year. He won Best Actor at the 2023 Venice Film Festival and with good reason. He disappears into Saul.

Chastain is just as brilliant, playing a more reserved and buttoned character. While Sarsgaard gets to play a bit more, everything rides on her character which she handles with ease. When key moments in Sylvia story are finally revealed, Chastain takes big emotional swings, making your heart break for her.

As a trio, Sarsgaard, Franco, and Chastain are a cinematic tour de force. It’s unfortunate that this film hasn’t made more of an impact this year and is unlikely to receive any Oscar nominations, but for my money, Memory is easily one of the best films of 2023.

Memory is in select theaters and opens wide on January 5th. Watch the trailer below.


Cortland Jacoby
A D.C area native, Cortland has been interested in media since birth. Taking film classes in high school and watching the classics with family instilled a love of film in Cortland’s formative years. Before graduating with a degree in English and minoring in Film Study from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, Cortland ran the college’s radio station, where she frequently reviewed films on air. She then wrote for another D.C area publication before landing at Punch Drunk Critics. Aside from writing and interviewing, she enjoys podcasts, knitting, and talking about representation in media.
review-memory-2'Memory' is a brilliantly crafted narrative centering on two deeply broken people who find one another and how that relationship builds.