I hadn’t seen much promotion for Reminiscence – in fact, the trailer was sprung on me when I was in the theatre for a different film, two weeks before the release. But I was intrigued. Framed as the dystopian sci-fi love child Gone Girl and Inception from the team behind Westworld, I was excited to see if the film would deliver. And it did––kind of.
Reminiscence sees Hugh Jackman as our protagonist, Nick Bannister. A veteran from a future war, Nick now makes his living as a private investigator of the mind alongside his war buddy and only friend, Watts (Westworld’s Thandie Newton). Using technology that allows him to see into other’s memories, clients who pine for the past come from all around the drowned city of Miami to revisit the best – and sometimes worst – times of their life. It’s when Mae, played by Rebecca Ferguson (who starred alongside Jackman in The Greatest Showman), arrives late one night looking for help to find her keys, that the plot is set in motion. We follow along as Nick falls for Mae in small vignettes of their life together; almost like a fever dream. Suddenly the happy façade fades, and we realise we are witnessing Nick’s memories. Now months since they met, Mae has disappeared, her apartment empty, and her job unaware of where she went. But Nick just can’t let go of the past. He searches his memories for clues of where she may have gone, and as the pieces come together he realizes that Mae isn’t the woman he thought she was.
Despite a great premise and promising actors, I was disappointed with the film’s overall execution, beginning with the characterisation of Mae. If you’re a regular on TikTok, you should be aware of the current trend among female creators to present themselves doing ordinary tasks, but doing so as if they’ve been written by a man. These videos play on the male gaze trope in which a male director or writer presents a female character so removed from the reality of how a real woman would act that it becomes comical. That is what it felt like to watch Mae. She was enigmatic, mysterious, and sexy. And that’s about it. For two thirds of the movie, we don’t get any idea of who she really is. In the beginning she’s a seductive damsel in distress waiting for Nick to save her from the slums of her job, where no one but him appreciates her vocal talents. Then, as Nick tries to find her, she becomes a femme fatale, a traitor, a junkie. There is no room for nuance. Now, this may be the point of Mae’s characterisation, as it’s when the truth is revealed in the last section of the movie that we actually see Ferguson emote past the range of seductive and spaced out. In these moments that probably totaled 10 minutes of screen time, Mae was full of emotion. She had her own motivations, her own goals and agency outside of Nick and their relationship. I was hoping this characterisation was trying to commentate on Nick’s infatuation of Mae being only skin deep, without any real attempt to understand who she was as a person. At one point, as the threads begin to unravel, he asks ‘Was Mae really the woman I knew, or was she a stranger?’ I almost couldn’t believe this was a real question he was asking himself, because the answer was obvious – she was both. But, with only a handful of minutes seeing the ‘real’ Mae, I was skeptical. So, I cannot undersell you how surprised I was to see the name Lisa Joy appear in the credits as both writer and director.
Though this was Joy’s feature directorial debut, she is anything but green to the Hollywood scene. With credits for Westworld, Pushing Daisies, and Burn Notice, it was clear that Joy is a skilled director. That was what made it hard for me to reconcile with the idea that she helmed Reminiscence. At least, despite my issues with the characters, I can wholeheartedly say I was in love with the film’s visuals (again, no surprise there, with Westworld alumni Paul Cameron behind the cinematography).
Another aspect of the plot that I felt the film failed to deliver on was its setting. A dystopian future version of our world, where a war has raged for who knows how long against an enemy that’s never revealed. At some point in this murky past, the world flooded, with whole city’s disappearing from maps. Those who are left travel the submerged streets of Miami on boats, reminiscent of Venice. Then there are the wealthy, known as the Barons, who are the only ones that own dry land. There are glimpses of a strong political subplot, with the masses growing contempt against the wealthy ticking like a bomb through the events of the film. But nothing ever really comes from it, resulting in the political landscape feeling more like a set dressing than anything of consequence. Honestly it seemed like it wanted to capitalize on the current political unrest, without ever really saying anything too polarizing. The whole backdrop of the film felt like an adaptation of a novel that left out all the juicy bits. At one point, I was convinced that it had to be an adaptation – they run rampant on the silver screen and are the only films that promise big worldbuilding without the follow through. Again, I was surprised to be wrong.
Ultimately, I think a lot of my gripes with the film would’ve been fixed if it was made as a limited/miniseries, giving it a chance to provide more depth to the characters, explore their own plots and motivations outside of Nick’s perspective, and dive deeper into the compelling world it created. I was left with so many questions unanswered; what caused the war, who was it between, what caused the flooding, how far into the future was this, how did we create this technology, and what was the moral implications of using it against others?
Overall, Reminiscence was an interesting story that was skilled at slowly revealing the puzzle pieces, but the characters, their relationships, and the world felt shallow.