Writer/director Lisa Joy’s twisty Reminiscence has all the hallmarks of a classic film noir. A flawed hero. A femme fatale with a dark past. A manipulative crime boss. Double-crosses and misdirection. Climate change. Wait, climate change? Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum might never have had to deal with soaring temperatures and rising sea levels, but that all-too-realistic threat underlines everything in Joy’s sci-fi-tinged mystery, offering a new angle on a familiar trope.
Hugh Jackman stars as Nick Bannister, who, in a near-future Miami where the privileged live it up behind high sea walls while the poor and unlucky slosh through puddles and do their best to stay out of the unforgiving sun, runs a company called Reminiscence. Customers rely on Nick’s technology to relive their favorite memories, disappearing into better times. He’s happy to help them out but doesn’t fully understand the appeal – until the satin-clad Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) walks in the door and into his life.
Mae, of course, is more than just someone who needs help finding her lost keys. But Nick falls for her anyway, and then she disappears, leaving him confused, angry, and desperate to find out what happened. As he digs deeper into the mystery of Mae, he starts unraveling secrets that others will do anything to protect. Along for the ride is his employee/best friend/guardian angel, Watts (a nod to Some Kind of Wonderful?). As played by Thandiwe Newton – who seems to be making a welcome habit of playing complex women who stand up for what they want – Watts, who has her own complicated history, is one of the movie’s most interesting characters.
Joy also co-created HBO’s mind-bending Westworld, which has thematic similarities to Reminiscence (not to mention casting crossover in the form of both Newton and Angela Sarafyan, and inclusion of many members of Westworld‘s crew). Both stories deal with the malleable nature of memory and reality, dangerous secrets, and female agency. Both speculate on where the tension between technology and the human condition will take us. And both take place in carefully constructed imaginary worlds that have just enough foundation in the here and now to be fascinatingly believable. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Susan Wloszczyna: Don’t be surprised if you get a Christopher Nolan vibe from this intriguing sci-fi thriller with a film-noir undercurrent amid a climate-change disaster scenario is set in a near-future flooded Miami coast. While rich land barons keep safe and dry behind a giant dam, the common folk must deal with the nasty damp byways of the city’s overflowing streets. Keeping track of the film’s narrative can be a bit tricky. Many of characters on screen aren’t fully fleshed out as well as they could or should be. That said, High Jackson’s emotional performance anchors the movie even if the narrative sometimes drifts away. Read full review.
Marilyn Ferdinand A palpable sense of loss permeates director/screenwriter Lisa Joy’s science fiction thriller Reminiscence, set as it is in a future where climate change has engulfed Miami in water and made daytime too hot to venture into. Hugh Jackman plays the owner of a business that trafficks in recorded memories, allowing clients to relive moments Jackman’s machine pulls from their brains. When a seductive singer ventures into his nostalgia emporium, he pursues her and falls into a love affair underlaid with treachery. Joy’s film seems to have been inspired by her brother-in-law Christopher Nolan’s breakout hit, Memento (2000), through which she met Nolan’s younger brother, Jonathan, now her husband. Perhaps Reminiscence is Joy’s personal memory of that first encounter, but it is one that unspools like a video game leading Jackman, the avatar, through a maze of connections that don’t really add up to much by the end.
Leslie Combemale In her feature film directing debut, Reminiscence writer/director Lisa Joy leans into the mind-twisting sort of tale that she excelled at when writing for HBO’s Westworld, bringing along collaborators from the show with her DP Paul Cameron, production designer Howard Cummings, editor Mark Yoshikawa, composer Ramin Djawadi, and costume designer Jennifer Starzyk. The results make for rich, complex world building. She also has an ace in her pocket with Westworld alum Thandiwe Newton, who brings a compelling performance as a far more interesting, layered version of the classic film noir detective’s sidekick/partner. Newton and star Hugh Jackman have a chemistry and rapport as their characters that suggests they’ve known each other in far better times. The subtext between them is that they’re propping each other up in a hopeless world they’d rather not have to live in, much less share with someone for whom they wish a shred of happiness.
Nell Minow: This neo-noir puzzle box of a film has a deeply romantic heart and an ambitious engagement with issues of memory and loss. The cleverness of the twist never overshadows the classic elements of a 40s noir — a femme fatale and pervasive corruption, a conflicted hero with a mystery that he cannot let go, a sultry song from the 1930s. Both are seamlessly embedded in a future world where the past is more appealing than the present or the future, the only way to have a happy ending is to end the story at the happy part.
Sherin Nicole Reminiscence has the look & feel of a Philip K. Dick adaptation but this near future sci-fi is written and directed by Lisa Joy. Joy created Westworld (2016–2022) with husband Jonathan Nolan (brother of Christopher Nolan), and both that series and the Nolan family imprint are certainly apparent. Memento (2000) is a predecessor to this film but so is Flatliners (1990). Here, Joy takes another turn at perception bending with a cocktail of film noir, cli-fi (climate fiction), and action-thriller that is instantly recognizable for fans of those genres and therefore easy to sink into. That makes sense for a story all about submersion, Reminiscence takes place in a world threatened by ever-rising sea levels due to the melting of the polar ice caps. Miami is now a canal city where our hardboiled detective, Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman), runs a business using submersion tanks to revisit the past and record memories. By his side is his hard-drinking technician Watts (Thandiwe Newton). The pair do alright until the femme fatale, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), becomes the catalyst for a mystery Bannister becomes strangely immersed in. The visuals in Reminiscence are whiskey smooth and sepia tinted, and the fight scenes add just enough kick to keep the pacing interesting while the pieces and the players slowly come into focus.
Jennifer Merin Reminiscence is showrunner Lisa Joy’s first feature film. She wrote, directed and produced the moody, futuristic, hi-tech, sci-fi extravaganza that stars Hugh Jackman as Nick Bannister, a scientist who, through hypnotically-induced, technologically-enhanced imaging, transports clients back in their personal histories to moments they wish to relive for pure pleasure or to investigate causes of lingering trauma. His services are also on the radar of law enforcers who bring witnesses and/or perps to him for forensic purposes. The narrative twists revolve around his search for his lost love, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), who is cryptically revealed to be someone other than the gal he thought she was. The film’s style is sci-fi noir, with dazzling special effects to add impact.
Pam Grady: The images are stunning in this post-apocalyptic neo-noir where war and climate change have done a number on the United States. Miami exists as a kind of high-rise version of Venice, the streets awash in water. A decaying amusement park, its neon at least still working, rises from the sea. Sections of highway float beneath elevated train tracks. And in this watery society, Nick (Hugh Jackman) and Watts (Thandiwe Newton) eke a living drawing forth memories of better times for a life-battered clientele. All that changes when torch singer Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) walks through the door, leaving Nick head over heels, for once looking forward to the future instead of pining for the past. When she abruptly disappears, his hunt for her plunges him into a nightmare world of gangsters, dirty cops, and corrupt billionaires, and one where warm memories can be as deadly as any landmine. In her debut feature, writer/director Lisa Joy mixes and matches elements of Strange Days, Somewhere in Time, Dark City, and classic film noir to create a tense, atmospheric thriller, shot through with bursts of furious action, and suffused with Nick’s heartbroken melancholy.
Sandie Angulo Chen: Award-winning writer-producer Lisa Joy’s directorial debut is a time-bending, futuristic psychological thriller that’s a well-acted, tautly executed film. Hugh Jackman, Thandiwe Newton (who had already worked with Joy on the HBO series Westworld), and Rebecca Ferguson give excellent performances. In this post-apocalyptic world, Jackman’s Nick uses a military-grade technology that allows him to guide those who can pay for titular reminiscences of their memories — whether it’s playing fetch with a beloved pet, reuniting with long-dead beloveds, or aiding in criminal investigations. When a mysterious beauty named Mae (Ferguson) pays for a memory to find her keys, Nick falls instantly in love. Without giving away any spoilers, suffice to say that Mae is more than the dream girl she appears. Joy knows how to build dark worlds filled with broken people looking for hope, love, and redemption.
Liz Whittemore There’s a lot that dazzles in Lisa Joy’s new sci-fi noir Reminiscence. The mix of not-too-distant future technology interlaced with retro prop pieces and sets creates an entire journey. Hugh Jackman is wonderful as usual. The script is heavy with social commentary but also a mystery of epic proportions. There’s a lot of information in this almost two-hour film. As a co-creator of Westworld, Lisa Joy’s ability to entice audiences with nuanced stories is evident. I do think that Reminiscence would have been next-level successful as a series. I wanted time to explore major history-changing plot points and felt like Thandiwe Newton’s character, Watts, deserved more in the way of backstory exploration. Her action sequence is by far the most entertaining in the entire film. Ultimately, while Reminiscence is stylistically intriguing, in the end, I was left wanting more.
Cate Marquis Reminiscence, Lisa Joy’s debut feature film, stars Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson and Thandie Newton in a twisty sci-fi mystery that is part Blade Runner, part Total Recall – both loosely based on novels by imaginative writer Phillip K. Dick – which then goes Hitchcock by way of Chinatown with a little classical mythology thrown in. Set in a flooded future Miami, where the streets are navigated like the canals of Venice and no one goes out until dark due to the heat, this is classic noir set in a gritty post-war, post climate-disaster dystopia. Dark, noirish, stylish, with that classic noir narration, it is a haunting story of love, obsession, deception, illusions and truth – and memories extracted by futuristic technology. If all that sounds like an intriguing brew, Reminiscence will hook you and take you for its wild ride.
Director: Lisa Joy
Release Date: August 20, 2021
Running Time: 116 minutes
Screenwriter: Lisa Joy
Distribution Company: Warner Bros.
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
Edited by Jennifer Merin