Reminiscence is bound to be one of the year’s more divisive films, but its poignant story and stunning visuals make it a riveting journey throughout.
What happens when technology evolves beyond the confines of time, and the fleeting nature of memory is long gone? How would humans exist in a world where every moment can be accessed from anywhere, any time? Westworld creator Lisa Joy explores all these questions and more in her feature debut Reminiscence, a neo-noir mystery set to the backdrop of a crumbling Miami in the near future. The film takes you on a journey through time and memory, unravelling a story of love, loss and betrayal – and one man’s journey to reclaim the life he’s long lost. Reminiscence clearly deals with some thoughtful and complex themes, but it does so with such care and precision that it leaves you truly in awe of its grand storytelling by the time the credits roll.
Nick Bannister (played perfectly by a solemn Hugh Jackman) is a dejected scientist responsible for the creation of the ‘reminiscence machine’, a device capable of delving into human memories and allowing them to experience a moment from their past with complete clarity and awareness. The film follows Nick as he uses the machine to track down an old lover, and unwittingly stumbles across a sweeping conspiracy that threatens his life and the lives of all those around him. Desperate to get to the bottom of the mystery and find his lover Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), Nick sends himself into a mental journey through time, space, and everything in between. Reminiscence is certainly more of a slow burn mystery than the high-octane adventure that many expected it to be, but this isn’t necessarily a negative. The film takes its time to fully explore its complex characters and even more complex ideas, never rushing or leaving anything underdeveloped. This relaxed pacing may put off a lot of viewers, but if you manage to immerse yourself in this beautifully developed world, then (much like those who find themselves lost in Bannister’s machine) you’ll find it hard to drag yourself out.
Reminiscence features some of the most impressive world building I’ve seen in recent memory, with its boundless landscapes and original sci-fi ideas that, whilst complex, are never too much to understand. The film gets all that necessary exposition out the way right at the start, and devotes the rest of its lengthy runtime to developing this fascinating world and building a mesmerising story that’s unlike anything I’ve seen. It offers plenty of meaningful insight on humanity, technology and memory, without ever losing sight of its true focus – the characters and their relationships. Jackman’s character is wonderfully written, and even more wonderfully acted. He serves as a beacon of humanity and empathy in a completely foreign world, perfectly displaying every ounce of emotion and frustration that comes with his journey. His relationship with Rebecca Ferguson‘s elusive Mae drives the narrative forward, and is never sidelined to make room for the film’s broader sci-fi concepts. It makes for a truly compelling mystery that’s always gripping and somehow never predictable.
What Reminiscence may be lacking in a universally accessible structure, it completely makes up for in its truly stunning visuals and beautiful use of lighting. From the expansive cityscapes to the intimate character interactions, every single shot feels alive and electric, proving Paul Cameron’s unique cinematography is a perfect fit for this world. The way he uses both natural and artificial light to emphasise certain parts of the story and direct the audience’s focus is astounding, and easily the film’s most memorable asset. Reminiscence also proves Lisa Joy’s ability as a director, as she crafts some truly impressive action pieces and fight sequences that expertly compliment both her grand storytelling and Ramin Djawadi’s enthralling original score. The level of talent behind the screen of Reminiscence is stunning, and honestly some of the best I’ve seen all year – which makes it even more disappointing that the film’s structure and pacing isn’t as effective as it could have been.
For a film that takes so much time to tell its story and develop its ideas, surprisingly little actually happens in the plot – and this is definitely going to be an issue for plenty of viewers. Some moments are painfully slow, and if you’re not already engaged in the story then I can definitely foresee a lot of people losing interest pretty quickly. The levels of exposition in the first fifteen minutes can be draining and confusing, and Jackman’s constant narration will definitely rub some people the wrong way. It’s admittedly a divisive and polarising film, but it will certainly gather a fanbase for the original and thought-provoking world that it creates, and it’s stylish beauty will certainly be enough to keep many people interested.
There’s no denying that Reminiscence is a flawed film, but plenty of these technical flaws are overshadowed by the film’s pure ambition and originality when it comes to forging a unique story that stands out in today’s cinematic climate. Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson play a perfectly intriguing couple, and their chemistry on screen is just another reason to lose yourself in this world that Lisa Joy creates from the ground up. Beautiful, intriguing and poignant, Reminiscence offers much more than I had expected and left me profoundly satisfied.
Reminiscence premiered in select cinemas worldwide and on HBO Max on August 20, 2021.
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