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Reminiscence

Released 2021. Director: Lisa Joy

SCIENCE-FICTION MOVIES LOVE TO TRADE IN MEMORIES. Retrieving them, manipulating them, distorting them, selling them, you can do just about anything with what you remember. From this bank of infinite ideas comes Reminiscence, which has an intriguing premise. Unfortunately the plot built on this foundation doesn’t quite hold up.

Set in the future when climate change has led to the rise of sea level, Miami (along with many other coastal cities presumably) is a city partly submerged. In this new world where huge walls are erected to block the encroaching sea, the rich ensconced themselves in their mansions and gardens on high grounds while the rest adjust to life on wet streets in shabby neighbourhoods.

Hugh Jackman’s character is Nick Bannister, who runs a business helping people remember. His clients come in and lie down in a flotation tank wearing a wired cap that projects their memory on a circular stage like a hologram.

Business is struggling and you can tell Nick’s not in it for the money. He’s a nice guy who wants to help people relive their treasured past because time has gotten so bad. One day, a woman named Mae comes in requiring help to recall where she’s misplaced her keys. (Seriously, the future is depressing when you need to seek professional help to find your keys.)

From the first moment Nick lays eyes on Mae he’s completely enchanted. Before long they start to spend a lot of time together and Mae gains Nick’s complete trust, which in a movie like this always turns out to be a big mistake.

Mae goes missing and Nick plays detective to find his lost love, digging into her past leaving no stone unturned even those underwater, as it were. Here’s a private investigator chasing after a woman in the shadows, writer-director Lisa Joy’s attempt to incorporate a vague impression of film noir in the proceedings. I use the word ‘vague’ because what transpires is more a notion of the genre in the sense of style rather than substance.

Nick’s pursuit and investigation leads him down a twisted path involving underworld nasties and social elites at the other end. When the mystery is unravelled, the revelation is far less than the anticipation might have promised. The convoluted pathway leads to a destination that shows neither clever plotting nor character interest. The villains turn out to be the super-rich protecting their own interest but the story merely uses them as some sort of hazy archetype. They are so under-developed and non-specific they barely register.

The character of Nick is a blank canvas. The man has no history, no family and no friends. This is a flatly written lovelorn semi-action romantic in a vacuum and Hugh Jackman tries to fill it as best he can with his valiant performance but he can only do so much.

Rebecca Ferguson seems only to have one directive and that’s to project a mysterious persona. Often clad in a tight low-cut dress as a nightclub singer, Mae is very much fashioned after a femme fatale, regrettably a dull and uninspired portrayal with minimum emotional engagement.

But the thing that bothers me is really how the movie completely disregards how memory works. I want you to think about this. When you try to remember, to recall a moment in the past, you see in your mind what you saw at the time. It’s a first-person perspective. When the people in Reminiscence recall their memories, they see themselves as separate, as if they’re watching a movie, in third person. That’s not how we remember. How can a movie about remembering flout this basic, innate experience? I understand it makes the scene more cinematic, what with the shimmering projection of seeing what the person is doing but it just isn’t right.

One other important idea that doesn’t convince is the need for people to rely on this new technology to help them remember. We’re told some of Nick’s clients come back again and again because they want to relive a cherished memory. Why go to this much trouble when they can just close their eyes and remember. The result is the same.

To recall what I said at the beginning (without the need for external technology), the premise has promise, but the story on which it’s built struggles to stay afloat.


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