Review: Reminiscence Is an Undernourished Future Vision About Nostalgia’s Effects

Reminiscence’s noir adornments inadvertently feel closer to parody than loving homage.

Reminiscence
Photo: Warner Bros.

With Reminiscence, Westworld co-creator Lisa Joy makes her foray into feature films, and with a premise with many links to the HBO series. In the war-torn and flooded Miami of the future, ex-serviceman Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) and his associate, Watts (Thandiwe Newton), operate a business that gives people the experience to relive their most cherished memories. Like Westworld, the film is about the narcotic-like pull of nostalgia and how it’s capitalized upon, though it nestles its sci-fi premise within a noir rather than western framework, and the resulting genre-blending is significantly less playful.

Joy incorporates the most recognizable noir tropes into her film, and in ways that feel obligatory and bound by formula. There’s the hard-boiled, cynical voiceover from Nick; the mysterious femme fatale, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), with whom he becomes smitten after she walks into his shop; and the convoluted murder and conspiracy plot involving Mae and the muckety-mucks of high society. Between the pedestrian and cliché-ridden storyline and the self-consciously stylized dialogue that’s by turns laughable and cringe-inducing, Reminiscence’s noir adornments inadvertently feel closer to parody than loving homage.

Ultimately, Reminiscence is stronger when it’s exploring its sci-fi side, namely the possibilities of the central memory-reliving technology. In one kinetically edited sequence where Nick probes the memory of a criminal for a police investigation, Joy weaves imperceptibly between past and present events to depict the technology in action, effectively suggesting how certain memories can leave such a profound impression on a person as to feel like time travel.

Across the film’s running time, Nick and Watts often view their clients’ memories via holograms on a stage of sorts, evoking the act of moviegoing. Joy even briefly toys with this parallel when Nick views a memory that shows Mae, under the direction of the sinister Cyrus Booth (Cliff Curtis), being forced to rehearse another memory that Nick previously thought was an actual one. But while Joy grapples with people’s yearning to satisfy their nostalgia via Nick and Watts’s memory-reliving services, a plethora of other ideas are conspicuously underserved. At one point, Mae and Watts have an intriguing yet all-too-brief discussion about the male gaze in a world where people can look into women’s private memories, while the world itself, defined by a medieval-like social order, is only fleetingly outlined.

That these concepts are never developed beyond simply being posed feels unfortunate giving that the film’s hints of moral drama are compelling. At one point, Nick speaks about how some people can’t seem to live in the present and end up dwelling on the past so much that they essentially become addicted to it. You could say, then, that his observation inadvertently applies to Reminiscence itself, because rather than boldly utilize its sci-fi premise to toy with its noir trappings, the film traffics in the familiar, finding only solace in bygone genre tropes.

Score: 
 Cast: Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton, Cliff Curtis, Marina de Tavira, Daniel Wu, Mojean Aria, Angela Sarafyan  Director: Lisa Joy  Screenwriter: Lisa Joy  Distributor: Warner Bros.  Running Time: 116 min  Rating: PG-13  Year: 2021  Buy: Video

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