Westworld co-creator Lisa Joy is making the jump to the big screen with her feature film directorial debut Reminiscence. Starring Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson and Thandiwe Newton, the sci-fi thriller explores memory, perception, and dreams according to Joy, who also penned the script.
Set in Miami in the not-too-distant future, the city has become a partially sunken ruin surrounded by walls to keep flood waters at bay and stifling heat has driven residents to nocturnal living. It is here in this sinking coastal city that Nick Bannister (Jackman) makes his living as a “private investigator of the mind”. With technology and skills he honed as an interrogator during the war, Nick and his business partner Watts (Newton) help clients access and relive their lost memories, allowing them to re-experience their past in a full sensory experience. Eventually, new client Mae (Ferguson) shows up in Nick’s life and the jaded investigator falls deeply in love with her, until one day, she vanishes. Determined to find out what happened to her, Nick embarks on a dangerous journey into the past to discover more about the woman and the memory of her he so desperately clings to.
Inspired by her own personal family history, Joy opened up about her process in bringing the story to life in a virtual Q&A in advance of the film’s August release.
Following the death of her grandfather and the process of sifting through his old mementos made Joy “start to think about memory and our lives in general and the moments that passed by and maybe disappear.”
For Joy, the idea of life’s brief encounters – the ones don’t necessarily stand on their own as momentous occasions but shape our futures and who we become – is something that stuck with the filmmaker. The root of Reminiscence was formed through the idea of “something that changed us and touched us and how nice it would be to be able to go back to those memories fully for a moment, to live that life and feel the way you felt when you experienced them.”
While discovering elements of her grandfather’s past, Joy was also getting ready to welcome her first child, leading her to contemplate small moments in life.
“Around the same time, I was pregnant with my first child and I finished writing Reminiscence shortly after giving birth,” Joy explains. “And I remember holding her in my arms and any parent knows the sort of delirium that sets in when it’s almost like being drunk. You’re so tired. I’m rocking back and forth and smelling her little head and you have that special smell. And I thought, ‘I wish I could bottle this because she’s not going to smell like this [forever]’.”
“It’s those small moments that mean everything,” Joy says. She continues, “As exhausted as I was, that this was just a magical moment and more meaningful than college graduation or awards or fancy dates that people memorialize. That gave me the idea of how much of life that we value is in those small moments and how it’s universal, those moments of love and connection and beauty that you have. And what is the most amazing thing be to be able to revisit them?”
With the concept for Reminiscence in place, Joy spent her waking hours writing the script with one particular actor in mind – Hugh Jackman.
“I just knew when I was writing it, I knew it was him and I just couldn’t imagine anyone else. And then I was incredibly lucky because once Hugh said he was in, I knew I had to find his mate [in Ferguson]. And all I needed was somebody who could do tragedy, who could seduce but also be vulnerable, be witty and sing,” she says, adding, “It was like casting five different people.”
With Jackman’s character addicted to exploring the past for answers, Reminiscence also touches on the idea of perception and how one’s persona is shaped through the eyes of others, both in reality and in dreams. As Nick heads down the memory rabbit hole, he starts to piece together the Mae he is chasing might be closer to a dream, distorted by his own love-sick distorted perception.
“Everybody always wants their dreams to come true, but sometimes it takes a lifetime and a process of constantly reexamining what those dreams should be,” she explains. “I think kind of a peace and tranquility in who you are emerges ultimately when you learn to chase the right dream. You know, there are so many things that can sway us, each of us, that when we chase those things, they lead us astray. And Nick in this is chasing perhaps a dream. He doesn’t know anymore who this woman was.”
Nick’s obsession is born out of love and although facts that contradict his perception of Mae crop up on his investigation, he remains blind to her flaws and the darker elements of her persona.
“They often say that love is a kind of blindness, but I think love is the opposite,” Joy says. “Love is being able to fully see someone, their flaws and their virtues and still want to be with them. And then in a way, the blindness emerges when you choose to love that person.”
She continues, adding, “I think if you dream the right dream, you can find things that stand the test of time and find the right kind of blindness to live your life.”
Reminiscence opens in cinemas and on HBO Max on August 27.