Everybody wants to feel like they belong somewhere, even if they don’t. Co-opting other people’s reality or history to formulate an identity for oneself is easy — the information needed to become whoever you choose is on the Internet, in movies, archives, and museums. The Memory Thief follows a disaffected young man in Los Angeles who avoids his own memories by taking on Jewish identity to share in the suffering of Holocaust survivors. The theme is clearly a salient one, but it is slathered so thickly onto every minute of the film that the viewer hopes (in vain) that at least one scene won’t be a heavy-handed lesson in identity politics.
Writer and director Gil Kofman is so eager to embed meaning in the imagery and dialogue that it becomes uncomfortably forced and, at its worst, stops making sense. Improbably, a convenience store clerk engages with protagonist Lukas (Mark Webber) about the meaninglessness of choosing his own lottery numbers. A cross dangles awkwardly from the collar of Lukas’s neck for the first time in the film as he buys a prayer shawl (in case you missed it, Kofman then cuts to a close-up.) A Holocaust survivor who’s spent the entire movie talking about his experiences commits suicide because Lukas “forces” him to open up about them in an interview. The ownership of memory is worth considering, but Kofman’s lack of faith in his audience keeps The Memory Thief from sparking that dialogue.