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‘Reminiscence’: Exploring the world of memory vs reality

Rebecca Ferguson as Mae and Hugh Jackman as Nick Bannister in "Reminiscence". Image credit: Ben Rothstein/© 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Rebecca Ferguson as Mae and Hugh Jackman as Nick Bannister in ‘Reminiscence’. Image credit: Ben Rothstein/© 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

“Then tell me a happy story, but end it in the middle,” Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) tells Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) in “Reminiscence”.

This is how she responds when Nick says: “No such thing as a happy ending. All endings are sad. Especially if the story was happy.”

Welcome to the world of “Reminiscence”. This action sci-fi film written and directed by “Westworld” co-creator Lisa Joy is now showing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max. Reuniting “The Greatest Showman” co-stars Jackman and Ferguson, “Reminiscence” is a noirish film set in the near future. Climate change has caused the seas to rise and flood cities, and wars to break out. The extreme heat has forced most people to become nocturnal. Wealthy people have become land barons, having bought up dry land at cheap prices and building dams to keep the waters at bay. Meanwhile, the rest of the population live at the mercy of the tides. With no hope left for the future, most people have turned to nostalgia, with Nick’s clients immersing themselves in sensory deprivation tanks while he helps them relive specific memories. One day, Mae walks in, and Nick’s whole life changes.

A journey through memory

One of the most shocking things I learned about the production of this movie is that the holograms that appear when someone is living their memories aren’t special effects.

Jackman revealed in an interview with Collider that the holograms were actually captured in-camera because the production team used groundbreaking technology that allowed them to do this.

“Lisa [Joy] and her team discovered a new way of filming to make the holograms real. All those reminiscences that you see from the machine was real, in-camera, not a special effect. And I still can’t even explain it to you, the math, the physics of it all. It actually was really, really difficult to do and it took loads of people, that had people working on it for a year. But I think most people are gonna see that [and] unfortunately just assume that it’s a really cool special effect,” Jackman said.

It’s hard to talk about “Reminiscence” without spoiling the twists, but what I love about this movie is how it examines boundaries between memory and reality, and perception and personality. And the amazing performances and great chemistry between Jackson and Ferguson.

Is there really an objective reality? Or does it all depend on our memories of the event, and perhaps even the circumstances every time we remember it? Are we remembering or creating those memories?

And who is a person really? In the case of Mae, is she the person that Nick knows, the person that she is when the two of them are together? Or is she a different person to different people?

Who are we?

“Who was she? Who was she when not with me?” Nick asks himself.

Different people tell him that maybe Mae is not the person that he thought she was. And now that she has disappeared, all he has left are his memories of Mae, and the memories other people have of her.

“Reminiscence” weaves in and out of the past, between what is happening and what has already happening. While also incorporating — and subverting — different genres.

The most beautiful thing about this movie is that for all the trappings from different genres, the sci-fi elements take a back seat to the heart of the movie, which is a reflection on what it means to be human, and how the self assimilates or resists the perceptions of others.

Are we who we are? Or who others think we are?

I know that “Reminiscence” has received mixed reviews, and that a number of critics have panned it. But I love this film and think they have missed the forest for the trees.

“Reminiscence” is more than the sum of its parts and the elements that critics claim it has ripped off from other movies.

All I can say is watch it for yourself, instead of letting the critics decide for you.

You’re going on a journey.