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Marjorie Prime

Released 2017. Director: Michael Almereyda

IF YOU'VE SEEN HER, YOU'D REMEMBER IT'S THE ONE WHERE Joaquin Phoenix’s character falls in love with his computer operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson. In Marjorie Prime, the techno-persona scenario goes a step further. Much more than just a voice now, science can recreate a deceased loved one to sit in front of you to have a real conversation.

85-year-old Marjorie (Lois Smith) talks to her husband Walter every day, even though Walter has been dead for many years. The incredibly lifelike, almost physical holographic projection of Walter is how Marjorie chooses to remember him, almost 50 years younger, in the form of Jon Hamm, who looks as dapper and sounds as real as a real person.

Walter Prime is built out of the memories of the real Walter. He tells Marjorie stories of their lives together, including the time when he proposed to her and when they adopted a dog. Marjorie has dementia and Walter Prime is a way to help her remember. More than a memory jogger for Marjorie, he’s also a companion, perhaps the most needed companion for Marjorie at this stage of her life.

Marjorie’s daughter Tess (Geena Davis) is wary of Walter Prime, not so much bothered by the technology but by his appearance as a younger version of her father. Tess is also going through a challenging time with her estranged daughter while coping with her mother. Tess’ husband Jon (Tim Robbins), however, embraces the Prime technology enthusiastically, conversing and feeding Walter with more detail of the family’s past.

Based on a stage play by Jordan Harrison, Marjorie Prime is the kind of sci-fi with the potential to blow your mind with intrigue and mystery, raising questions that would fit into a timeless philosophical debate about identity and the future of humanity.

The role of a Prime goes beyond companionship for a widowed spouse. The physical presence of a deceased loved one who is able to respond to you lets you say what you never had the chance to say, an opportunity for confessions, or fulfilment of a promise. Though the dead appear to take centre stage, the heart of the story is about the living and how we manage grief, memories and closures.

Director Michael Almereyda handles his work with delicacy and reverence. Life after death – for the living as well as the deceased – is taken very seriously. Perhaps more sombre than it needs to be, there is a sense of weight on the movie that almost sucks the air out of the room. Filmed like a chamber drama, it is dialogue heavy, in need of some imagination and flair to make better use of the cinematic medium to transcend its stage origin.

Marjorie Prime will appeal to fans of TV’s Black Mirror and people who consider some of life’s big questions through a technology prism. Through the interactions between the living and the dead, the movie looks at love between wives and husbands, parents and children. Whilst it may not fully engage on an emotional level, there’s no denying the ambitious scope of intellectual and philosophical curiosity.


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