Reminiscence Review: Mind-bending potential lost in its overly complicated execution
The newest film to release through Warner Bros’ “hitting theaters and HBO Max the same day” plan is the feature directorial debut of Westworld co-creator Lisa Joy, Reminiscence.
Reminiscence gave off a lot of mind-bending vibes of Inception with its memory focused, sci-fi fantasy noir premise and a lot of that comes through in the film establishing its setting and characters. The sheer visual of South Miami being as flooded as Venice because of the effects of climate change is incredibly compelling and not just because of recent reports on the issue. With the water consuming the city and work conditions in the day being unbearable, most people seek a greater nostalgia to remind them of better days. It’s a great setup for this immersive memory technology that people use to escape their bleak reality and relive their fondest memories and this memory immersion is probably the most intriguing aspect of Reminiscence.
The concept of reliving memories is an interesting take on nostalgia seeking with a more personal purpose. Rather than just looking for average entertainment, some look to relive a moment of glory or see the face of a deceased loved one again. It’s something that makes sense as a new form of escapism and is given more depth as we meet business partners Nick (Hugh Jackman) and Watts (Thandiwe Newton). While acting as business where people come to them to relive memories, Nick and Watts also work as private investigators using their memory machine for interrogations to get information to solve crimes. This memory machine is really versatile story wise and plays a pivotal role in Nick attempting to understand the disappearance of a woman he loves named Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) and her true intentions with him.
Throughout Nick’s growing addiction to immersing himself in the past in order to understand the present, there are some strong elements of Reminiscence that continually shine through. Jackman’s performance is very strong as you feel his obsession and need to understand intensify. Noir is something that’s rarely seen anymore, so it’s instantly refreshing to see how the setting plays up the dark, moody atmosphere of a noir story alongside Jackman’s narration. Not to mention, the visuals and moments with the memory machine are awesome with they are utilized in the early set up and certain discoveries down the line. Unfortunately, Reminiscence’s ambitious story bites off more than it can chew as it simply tries to juggle too much.
Even for its simple start and seemingly standard story direction, Reminiscence becomes incredibly convoluted and overstuffed. Characters that are in one scene suddenly become major plot points out of nowhere, the dialogue attempts to be so full of meaning and cerebral that certain key details don’t make the impact they need to, and the characters have such little depth that it’s tough to make a real connection with them. Some of the world-building also falls flat as there is constant mention of this war a lot of the characters were a part of, but it’s not really talked about much and only feels like a connector for characters. It’s only brought up in an attempt to give characters depth, which doesn’t end up doing much, and to make the plot go in certain directions – like keeping Nick alive in the face of certain death.
As for its central mystery, there’s too much going on at times and it can make for a very congested watch. There’s just a lot of characters, plot threads, and timelines to piece together to the point where you probably benefit from taking notes during the watch – which no one should have to do for any movie. To give Joy some credit though, the way she utilizes the memory machine for certain storytelling moments is very unique and works well. The way she builds Nick and Mae’s relationship through him traversing these memories leads to a very emotional, meaningful moment because of the way Joy constructs it. It’s certainly ambitious storytelling that sadly doesn’t lead to the most satisfying of answers.
The case kind of ends on a rushed, unsatisfying note because the characters and story it involves just isn’t touched on enough throughout to make it impactful and the final reveal of Nick’s fate just adds this unnecessary doubt to the story we’ve seen. It basically alludes to the idea that the story we’ve watched unfold might not be exactly as we’ve seen it since it puts a new perspective on it, and it just over-complicates the story for no real reason. It’s an unnecessary twist that doesn’t add this great shock value and rather just leaves you perplexed and confused.
There’s a lot to like about Reminiscence’s concept and Joy’s stylistic choices and storytelling ambitions, but it just doesn’t come together in right ways for it be this compelling, mind-bending watch. Rather, it just overstuffs itself with an overly complicated plot leading to a mentally strenuous watch that struggles to keep you engaged.