After several years serving as the co-creator of HBO sci-fi show Westworld, Lisa Joy makes her feature directorial debut with Reminiscence . As on the TV show, here she gets to play with future tech in a dreamy mystery story that examines the emotional impact memories have on the soul.
Hugh Jackman plays Nick Bannister, who lives in a near-future Miami which has been flooded as climate change leaves an ugly stain on the world. Together with his business partner Watts (Thandiwe Newton), he makes a living by servicing clients who wish to wallow in their old memories.
This is done via a gizmo known as “the tank”, which allows users to immerse themselves in a 3D cinematic projection of their formative experiences. Something of a closed book, Nick finds himself drawn to one of his clients, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), who has her own reasons for plundering her past.
Styled very much as a film noir, Reminiscence comes complete with the obligatory voice-over and, in Mae, the archetypal femme fatale. Unsurprisingly, she and Nick become amorously entwined – one vigorous love scene rivals Fatal Attraction for kitchen sex – which inevitably leads to dangers for him when it’s revealed that Mae is embroiled in murder.
Blending this gumshoe-style drama with science fiction elements is intriguing, and Joy creates a believable vision of a flooded future. The look of a waterlogged Miami is striking, and all credit to the VFX team and production designer Howard Cummings, who worked on Westworld with Joy.
There are moments where Reminiscence can feel derivative; a shoot-out involving Jackman and Newton’s characters feels straight out of The Matrix playbook. But Joy never sacrifices story for all-out spectacle, even if characters, particularly Mae, veer towards cliché film noir tropes at times.
It’s intriguing that Joy even made a film about the pain of memory, given that her partner and Westworld co-conspirator Jonathan Nolan wrote the short story that his brother Christopher’s seminal breakthrough movie Memento was based on. You have to admire her for inviting such comparisons.
Performance-wise, Newton is fired up and Ferguson does what she can with a one-note role, at least forging a sultry chemistry with Jackman. It’s also pleasing to see The Greatest Showman actor in a more morally ambiguous role, even if it’s not quite on a par with his last collaboration with the Nolan family, The Prestige .
Reminiscence may not be unforgettable, but it’ll linger in the brain longer than most.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.