dir: Lisa Joy
This flick is so terrible, releasing it during this current stage (of the endless stages) of the pandemic seems even more cruel. Weren’t we suffering in lockdown enough?
Reminiscence is terrible in ways that I thought science fiction flicks had stopped being around 15 years ago. It uses imagined technology to represent people’s memories, and sets the story some time in the future where climate change has swamped coastal cities, and the higher temperatures mean people sleep during the day and mostly work at night.
But then it has people wearing suits, natty hats and ties to make it look like the 1950s, and has people walking around during the day like it’s no big deal. And while, where this is mostly set in a Miami made to look like Venice, with canals and boats and such, other times to show the dreadful impact of anthropogenic climate change, they show streets that are just a bit wet, and old fossil fuel based cars driving around like… nothing has happened.
The protagonist is always wearing a long coat and tie, loosened, around his neck in presumably 50 degree temperatures. A woman he becomes obsessed with sings jazz songs in jazz clubs, like there are jazz clubs in the 2050s, probably thanks to the work Ryan Gosling did in La La Land saving the obscure art form from oblivion.
Like, jazz clubs, straight out of the past, still exist, in the future. I was surprised not to see chimney sweeps, shoeshine boys, newsagents or internet cafes.
It’s a very traditional noir / detective kind of story with a few sci fi elements, which is stuff that can work well even in these mishmashed misbegotten kinds of lazy stories. The first Sin City flick was the absolute embodiment of all of these noir clichés, and worked in ways this flick never comes close to.
The femme fatale literally wears red when she first walks into Nick’s office. Nick is played by Hugh Jackman, who in other flicks has given credible performances with believable motivations and personality. None of that is present here, at all. There’s a scene at the three quarter mark where something really “bad” happens, where he tries to emote a lot of emotion and I found myself laughing uncontrollably.
The femme fatale is played by Rebecca Ferguson, who would be great if she was playing a poorly programmed android, but she isn’t, she’s meant to be playing a human woman. I joke about this because the writer director of this monstrosity has worked on the recent tv series Westworld, which I have watched and which is also way better than anything in these wasted two hours.
Also great in Westworld is Thandiwe Newton, who plays Maeve there, a robot that transcends her programming, but plays someone with less autonomy here in this awful flick, as the character Watts. Though the flick is awful, Thandiwe is solid, putting in a much better performance than anyone else, thanklessly, because this stupid story squanders whatever is good in the flick.
Nick and Watts run a business where people can come and relive their memories in a somewhat 3d holographic form (3d to them, not to us). Some people come just to relive a happier time in their lives to contrast the post-apocalyptic hellscape they live in now. Other than catastrophic climate change (yet everything goes on as ‘normal’, just with dated aesthetics), there were also wars recently, of which Nick and Watts are veterans. Watts is an alcoholic but keeps their weird business running, whereas I have no idea what they need Nick for.
Mostly they cater to the public, letting them be happy at a price, but also recording their happiest memories because… I dunno. It’s never made clear why customers would want Nick and Watts to have recordings of their intimate reminiscences that Nick puts away in a bank vault. The people who are repeat customers go there to get the memory-enhancing injection, put this tech on their heads, lie in a bath and relive their experiences. None of them go there to ‘watch’ the recording of their memories.
But then if this element didn’t happen, nothing else in this stupidly and pointlessly convoluted story would happen either.
Other than catering to the public’s desire to wallow in happier times, Nick & Watts also consult with a district attorney’s office, probing into the minds of crims for incriminating evidence of wrongdoing, which, just as an aside, even as a non-American observer, would be blatantly unconstitutional, since it goes against the right of self-incrimination, enshrined in the 5th amendment. But we can presume that after some wars with climate change refugees and probably, I dunno, supersoldiers created by mixing hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, the Bill of Rights has been discarded for being the obviously socialist / communist crap that it is, so this becomes legal. It’s only ever used to further Nick’s obsession with a woman with whom he has zero chemistry who has disappeared.
When Mae sings, with her affectless voice, it reminds me of Lana Del Rey at her most bored and lifeless, but to Nick, who possibly has necrophiliac tendencies, this is the first of a thousand red flags that need to be ignored.
When she speaks it’s somehow even less expressive, even less life-like. I’m not sure what the relationship is based on, but whatever it is, it’s not really obvious to the audience. When she disappears, the rest of us might be like okay, well, that’s done at least, but Nick does that “I’m so obsessed” kind of grunt-acting whereby nothing else matters except for the thing the main jerk needs to do for the plot to keep rolling along, even if no-one else in the flick, and possibly the audience, wants it to keep going.
Nick can’t accept that special lady has gone away. Everyone says to him some variation on “the lady was bad news”, and then far worse stuff, which is completely unfair and sounds like it’s from 70 years ago. But he persists, for no reason. But this consists of sifting through his own memories and watching her again on a loop.
Purely randomly, he sees her again in the memories of a crim he and Watts are brought in to interrogate. And, because he’s an obsessed gonk, he ignores his actual job and just seeks whatever info he can on where Mae might be, even though these fucking memories are from five years ago.
Still, it results in a trip to New Orleans. Yes, when I think of places that might be okay after the sea levels rise several metres, I think of a roadtrip (by monorail, no less) to New Orleans.
So, Obsessed Boy (who’s, like, in his 50s now?) goes to a bar where a crime lord holds court, and demands answers as to where Mae is. This is surprisingly early in the film, and I kinda wished they killed him, when it looks like they’re going to kill him due to his stupidity and the fact that he walked into the place with no plan. It looks like they’re going to drown him in a fishtank full of eels, and that’s that.
Somehow, for reasons not explained as to how she got there at the right time, Watts comes and saves his dumb arse, which looks okay as an gun action-y scene in a film that has no other gun action-y scenes, but it further unfortunately means we have hours more of this claptrap to endure.
Nick finds out through all this that Mae was a bad person, oh such a bad person because people say so, and that she tricked him ever so terribly, but he still must track her down because otherwise, what’s the guy going to do? Intelligent things? Meaningful things?
I already thought the film was terrible before this point, but at about the half way point through a horrific slog, there’s a flashback scene where Mae and he are embracing at the top of a tower, and she says “tell me a happy story”, and he grunts in his endearing way that all stories with endings are sad, so she says “fuck that, tell me a story and end it half way so it’s happy”, and he says “You ever heard the one about Orpheus and Eurydice?”
And he fucking well mispronounces, as in, no-one ever bothered on set to tell him how to pronounce ‘Eurydice’. They repeat the scene at the very end, where instead of it seeming like he’s lying just a little bit to console someone who, at this point, he had no idea to think needed the consolation of lies, it just makes it sound like he himself had no idea what the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice was about, so mangled and poorly expressed as it is in his telling.
It's like hearing someone at a lockdown protest rally talk about science.
If I’d been watching in a cinema I swear to fuck I would have walked out. If I’d been reading it as a book I would have flung it out a window after setting fire to it first, and had I been watching it on BluRay I would have smashed the fucking thing at that point.
But I was streaming it, and I felt obligated to continue, and continue I did, despite the sheer terribleness of everything on display.
I don’t only feel bad for Jackman, who’s probably been in worse films, but not many, and Thandiwe Newton; I feel bad for almost every single person involved. This is such a fundamentally fucking stupid story than only gets dumber the longer it goes on that just adds new layers of dumb the longer it expires. There’s even something about an evil rich guy’s bastard love child that actually kicked all this bullshit off, that somehow leads to a, I kid you not, revolution of some kind, and that would be appalling enough even independent of the ending.
The ending still somehow manages to be worse than the previous two hours. It is an ending that misreads so completely what an audience could feel after watching Nick fumble around for so long and so artlessly over someone he didn’t even know that they retrospectively turn into a fucking saint.
But, and this can’t be said without spoiling the ending, so, if you’re enough of a masochist, please, read on and then STILL see this appalling bullshit, how does that ending make any fucking sense whatsoever?
After committing what is considered to be an appalling crime, Nick gets to spend the next, I dunno, twenty years in a tank watching his memories of Mae. Who is injecting him with the serum? Who is feeding him? Who is, uh, dealing with the waste materials? How is that business still running? Why is that business still running? Even if Watts is tending to him, and changing the flowers in a vase every day, who is injecting him with the plot device serum every hour or so?
And wouldn’t his fingers get really pruney, after, say, the first couple of hours of this?
It’s the shit cherry on top of what was a shit sundae right from the start. So much of the plotting is “I went to that place that I’d never mentioned before, because that’s the place people end up when, um, it’s convenient”, and that happens three or four times. It’s terrible, and off-putting, and humourless and just an awkward mixture of aesthetics and concepts and a waste of so many things. It does nothing with its setting, says nothing about the world being any different post the seas rising a lot, and seems devoted to telling a 1940s story in the 2050s for no reason other than those were the limits of someone’s imagination.
And there wasn’t one single talking fucking dolphin. For shame. What a sequence of missed opportunities. The whole screenplay ends up being like something the dumb twin brother in Adaptation would have come up with on the spot to Amazon Studios executives and been told “great, here’s 200 million dollars that fell out of Jeff Bezos’s back pocket as he was climbing into his spaceship, fucking squander it as a tax break for the company”, and lo and behold.
I don’t want to remember Reminiscence at all.
3 times I wish I could have this erased from my memories out of 10
“Nothing is more addictive than the past. Who wouldn't want to be reunited with a loved one? Or relive the most meaningful moments of their life? But memories, even good ones, have a voracious appetite. If you're not careful, they consume you.” – I have found deeper concepts in fortune cookies - Reminiscence