Rated PG-13 for violence and mild sexuality. It's an extremely tame noir that almost tries not to push the limit on anything for the sake of a PG-13 rating. While there is violence and death, the violence and death either happens off screen or in non-gory ways. There's a guy who burns to death, but even that is tempered for the most part. I suppose there is some language and the movie really casually deals with the notion of drug addiction and police corruption. It takes a hard stance on nothing. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Lisa Joy
There's nothing like having to write about a blah movie. I know that people had warned me about how this was a blah movie. I read reviews, all saying that the movie was trying to do too much and not accomplishing a lot of it. And do you know what? That's all true. It's all accurate. Reminiscence, despite having a cool concept behind it, is going to be one of those really forgettable movies that I'll have to be reminded about this time next year. I would sooner say that I would watch a bad movie than a blah movie because at least I have strong opinions about a bad movie and I could be outright wrong about the movie being bad. (Hence, my fear to watch Man of Steel again.)
My mother-in-law (who is actually watching my kids right now) said that there were a bunch of references to classic cinema. I thought that could keep me going through a movie that just felt like a slog. (I'm really coming down hard on this movie that was merely okay.) Yeah, there's some Blade Runner in there. It's heavily influenced by Inception. But the entire thing is just supposed to be another sci-fi noir. Director Lisa Joy mostly is successful at getting the vibe. Hugh Jackman is the protagonist in black, narrating his way through a missing person's case. I know that there's a version of Blade Runner where Harrison Ford does the voiceover for the film and it is considered less successful than the other versions of the film. But the voiceover that is supposed to be a harkening call to the noir of yesteryear actually might be the biggest red flag of the film. It's not that films can't work with a narrator. I think that there's some amazing film that use the voiceover effectively. It's just that it point out something that is really problematic with the film as a whole.
The film can't stop trying to drop more exposition. Nothing feels normal about the world of Reminiscence. We want to believe that this is a world in our near future where the water level has risen and that society is on the verge of collapse. Trust me, there's something there in the water and the rioting, just not in this movie. But the movie is trying to sell me on a really high concept idea, the notion of memory being used as therapy, entertainment, and law enforcement. But the movie doesn't just want to sell me on an idea involving this technology. It wants me to solve a murder using this technology as well. It's not the first time that this has happened in sci-fi noir. I can't help but flash to Minority Report with the same notion. But what happens in Reminiscence is that every line of discussion is tying back to the main story. Nick is never in the present. Considering that the movie's themes deal with the dangers of nostalgia, we never really get to know who Nick is now. We know who he used to be. We know what other people think of him. But everything is him explaining what the technology of the world is.
I often was told in my theatre classes about showing, not telling. I was told the same thing in my writing classes. It is a difficult job. Considering how much of the movie is founded on the visual elements of storytelling, a world where the waters are encroaching and that people walk through flooding for the bulk of the film; a world where memories are projected on a stage, the story keeps just telling me what I'm seeing and what character motivations there are. For some reason, it is important that Nick Bannister is a veteran of a war that we don't ever really emotionally understand. Like Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly and Serenity, he is a respected loser of a war that was about the people. But we never really get to experience that. It's ironic, because the movie creates the technology to show us what that war would have looked like. We could have emotionally bonded with this character, along with his partner Watts, by letting us experience this war. Instead, every interaction is either about finding out where Mae is, discussing the nuances of Nick's made up job, or reminding us about a backstory that probably should have been kept an acting exercise as opposed to explained ad nauseum.
What's funny --and I can't believe that this is the route I want to take --is that Reminiscence might work way better as a television show. I'm not saying that it is going to be a TV show, but you heard it here first if it does become one. This movie is so darned ambitious. It is obsessed with its own world building that it is getting in the way of character and plot. I wouldn't hate watching a story about a world where global warming is destroying epicenters of America. I would love to see a world where there is a delicate social balance between the haves and have-nots. I love the 1940s aesthetic to everything and I like the idea that nostalgia can be monetized. But this movie had a goal: tell the story of Mae, a woman who seduced the protagonist for a purpose, and her disappearance. Instead, we get a lot of characters who simply vomit up stories because we need to get Nick from location to location in an overly efficient matter because the story needs to be less than two hours.
The theme of the film is a condemnation of nostalgia. Every time someone gets in the tank, Watts either comments or makes a face wondering what people get out of that machine. We get that, despite the fact that Nick criticizes Mae for her drug addiction, he is addicted to the machine itself. But what is actually the danger of being addicted to the past? We have characters, like Tamara Sylvan, who have used their enormous wealth to live in the past. But Nick and Watts seem to have it pretty crummy. Emma (?) I think has it pretty crummy. Whenever they are in the present, the world stomps down on them. The idea of seeing a loved one again in a contained environment doesn't seem like that bad an idea. Watts keeps throwing around the phrase" getting burned", implying that there's a toxic element to the process of going into the machine. But the bittersweet ending to the movie seems like it isn't that bad being stuck in the tank. (Note: that seems like a really expensive way to prison reform.)
So it's blah. I wanted it to be good. I wanted it to be really good. But it's another one of those watches that I viewed because HBO Max has movies that are in theaters. Instead, I just got something that is insanely forgettable, despite being kind of pretty.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.