Sci-fi/noir has created some memorable bangers over the years which is fitting considering its newest entry, Reminiscence, is all about memory and is a Nolan-esque wander through the flimsy membranes of the mind by Westworld co-creator Lisa Joy. Trying to nestle into a comfy niche alongside other such movies that casts an eye over the human condition via the use of reality bending tech such as Blade Runner, Minority Report and Inception, this latest stab of future shock sees an obsessive Hugh Jackman try to unravel a missing person’s case via a machine that can allow people to relive their memories in a future that’s seen the world’s ocean’s rise up and give the human race the worst case of damp socks in all of recorded history…
But for all of its plunges into the recesses of the human psyche, is Reminiscence a film worthy of remembering?
It’s the future – and it’s a shit one. As I mentioned before, earth has become a soggy dystopia due to rising tides and in the mad scramble for available living space, war broke out between barriers. On top of this, the days in this bleak future leave the cities mostly deserted thanks to the rising temperatures so after the fighting died down mankind eventually became a race of night owls, shifting their business to more nocturnal hours. In this vastly unappealing world we find Nick Bannister, a man who makes a living helping paying customers escape their crappy present by reliving their past thanks to a doohickey that allows users to experience their fondest memories first hand. Into his life wanders Mae, a night club singer who is all perfect bone structure and Jessica Rabbit dress who swings by in the hope that Nick and his grumpy assistant/friend/old military partner Watts can help her find her lost keys (way to use the contraption to its fullest capacity, guys) and before you know it, Nick and Mae have a whirlwind romance that sees them actually looking happy in this dour future.
However, skipping forward a couple of months and we find Nick an obsessed shell of a man. Mae has disappeared without a trace leaving Nick to endlessly pour through his memories of her over and over in order to simultaneously recapture some of their happiness and hopefully find some sort of clue as to where she possibly could have vanished to. Straining to make ends meet, Nick and Watts use their talents to help the police interrogate people directly using the memory tech, but when Mae pops up in a mans memory years before Nick ever met her, he finally has new information to go on. But in a society that’s choking on corruption just as much as it is on H²0, is that a particularly safe thing to do and is Nick going to have to face facts that Mae might not have even been the person he thought she was?
Reminiscence is somewhat of an ironic title for a film that’s all about unlocking past moments from the old brain pad, especially as you’ll mostly be remembering and reliving a few other movies as you go and the first film that obviously comes to mind is notorious 2010 brain twister Inception which also had people fucking around with memory and altered perceptions of remembered events. The fact that Christopher Nolan is actually Lisa Joy’s brother in law is more than a little suspect, but despite nicking a fair amount from that flick including similar tech and the sight of a partially flooded city, it filtches liberally from other sci-fi and noir films too. Apart from riffing on Minority Report and featuring the slimy dealings of unscrupulous rich folk like a waterlogged Chinatown (Chinadrown?) it’s actually more like the writer/director has poured a large bucket of sea water over Kathryn Bigalow’s Strange Days (Strange Waves?) with many remarkably similar moments occuring between the two films for comfort. Both feature doen on their luck, heroes who peddle in other people’s experiences and have tough female friends who bail their love sick butts out of trouble, both feature a scene where the hero shows pity on a wheelchair bound friend by giving them memories of them having the use of their legs and both feature the devastating effect the tech can have on the human mind if misused… One or two of these similarities might have been forgivable, but there’s many more to be found if you actually remember the millennium based thriller and it eventually starts to get a little embarrassing after a while.
However, pulling the film out of its derivative nose dive is it’s strong cast who ably keep things ticking along. Hugh Jackman is still one of the most dependable leading men around and he still retains his chemistry with The Greastest Showman companion Rebecca Ferguson, who gives her mystery woman the layers needed despite techincally only featuring as a memory. Thandiwe Newton also builds on the kind of tough, cynical badass she portrayed before in Solo and gives a nice line in exasperated gruffness that fleshes her out than more than just an invested sidekick.
However, despite all of Reminiscence’s visual lushness – the shots of numerous cities experiencing a terminal case of rising damp are impressive as hell – it’s main hook of the memory tech actually acts as a story crutch one too many times, providing simple, on hand answers in favour of solid storytelling or good old fashioned detective work…
For all of its focus on the examining of grey matter and it’s ability to recall the best and worst of our lives, Reminiscence is sadly as memorable as the 27,000th sneeze you’ll have in your lifetime and despite all the talent involved, it stacks up poorly against the all the similar movies the script seemingly chose to forget.
Rather than having a memory like a steel trap, for all it’s flair Reminiscence ultimately sticks in the mind as long as a new phone number during a brain fart…