In a future world changed by climate change, memories are a precious and verifiable commodity. A (Hugh Jack) man goes to great lengths to solve the disappearance of his beloved. Reminiscence , Lisa Joy’s directorial debut, is full of interesting concepts, but not all of them get through.
An impressive, impoverished new world
Lisa Joy wants to show a lot in her first film as a director and screenwriter. She co-created the acclaimed sci-fi series Westworld with her husband Jonathan Nolan , so she’s used to telling complex stories on a large scale. With Reminiscence she brings a sci-fi thriller that deals with themes such as time, climate change and nostalgia, while at the same time being a romantic drama. Let’s put it this way: Joy should have played out the first part much more than the second for me.
The world-building Joy does in Reminiscence is impressive. From the first scenes you feel what this world has become. In a future that now seems much closer than we would like, when water levels rose everywhere and the planet got hotter, war broke out everywhere. Miami also remained divided. One part is only accessible by boat, and the other is spared from the water. Due to the rising temperatures, life mainly takes place at night. This entailed a territorial and a class struggle. That is why many neighborhoods are deserted and illegality is rampant.
In the city, former veterans Nick Barrister (Hugh Jackman) and Watts (Thandiwe Newton) run a clandestine business where people can relive their memories. Customers crawl into a kind of tub to connect their brain waves to a 3D viewer. With questions and instructions, Nick guides them through their memories. The destination? A time and place you’ve been before.’
Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) enters the store to retrieve her lost keys. Nick is instantly in love and it turns out to be mutual. But after a few months, Mae suddenly disappears without a trace. Nick wants to know what happened to her at all costs, but the deeper he digs, the more questions surface. Did he really know Mae? Through their collaboration with the prosecutor, the technique is also used to interrogate people, making Nick and Watts also a kind of police duo and being sucked into a mystery surrounding one of the wealthy rulers.
Death to nostalgia
So memories can be relevant for a few reasons, but most relive them because the new world still has little to offer them. Some always choose the same moments, and because of that you can ‘burn’ yourself, or get stuck.
Nostalgia is more popular today than ever, especially in entertainment. Reminiscence reminds you that dwelling too much on what has been benefits no one. Memories, and clinging to them excessively, can color your image of someone and hold you hostage to the good things to come. As a viewer you do realize that double bottom, but the script sometimes puts it too thick. In certain scenes, the characters resemble philosophers just too much.
(We did notice though: Thematically, the extended Nolan family is clearly thinking the same things . You know you might be a Nolan fan too big when you think Algiers Point is a reference to The Prestige , Jackman’s collaboration with Joy’s brother-in-law. No, it’s just a New Orleans neighborhood.)
Neither cold nor warm from love
Some of the choices Lisa Joy has made in her screenplay surprise me, unfortunately in the negative sense. Either I’ve become very cynical about love, but the relationship between Nick and Mae never really appealed to me. Even though Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson have enough chemistry (as they also showed in The Greatest Showman) , their relationship is not explored enough in the beginning of the film to feel much for it afterwards. Jackman tries very hard and puts down a very good rendition. But we can also almost count on one hand the things we know about Nick afterwards.
We therefore know too little to understand his feelings for Mae, because she also remains largely superficial as a character, disguised as a femme fatale. Perhaps the romance would have been more remarkable if the roles in the story had been reversed and Ferguson had been in the lead. (And those who know me know that I don’t like to sacrifice a Jackman, though.) Thandiwe Newton is great as the sarcastic and hardened Watts, but unfortunately there is a cliché (and heteronormative) turn for her character towards the end that was completely unnecessary. . Too bad, because Watts has a background that certainly should have been given more attention.
where is this going
The central relationship may be disappointing, but the mystery surrounding Mae is still nicely worked out. The different story elements come together well and Jackman can bite into it like a real film noir leading man, complete with old school voiceover. His Wolverine muscles are not completely cold yet, because he is not shy about a few drastic stunts.
The whole movie is a visual gem. Joy portrays everything beautifully, along with cinematographer Paul Cameron ( Collateral , 21 Bridges ), thanks to beautiful lighting and warm colors that are actually atypical of many dystopian films. Howard Cummings ( Westworld , Magic Mike ) sets are also a feast for the eyes, often themselves tinged with nostalgia by the remnants of the world before the water. Ramin Djawadi previously provided Person of Interest and Westworld with music for Joy and Nolan and here he delivers perhaps his most minimalistic yet melodic score.
Joy has already expressed in Empire that she has another idea for a scenario in this world, and it is so promising that we won’t say no to it. Hopefully she can get the most out of it then.