Film Review: Reminiscing About ‘Reminiscence’

by Ben Martin

The warmth offered by memories of the past can be a helluva drug, can’t it? Many of us, myself included, are admittedly guilty of sometimes living in the past more than we should — pop culture nostalgia undoubtedly proves that. Such a habit is ultimately unwise as the past’s only purpose is to inform the present, while the future is theoretical at best. But, I think hanging on to the past is part of human nature; and for many folks, it is second nature. Nevertheless, clinging to the past can sometimes be dangerous, a concept that is especially true in the sci-fi neo-noir film Reminiscence.

The film takes place in a dystopian future wherein the Earth has been negatively impacted by climate change. The majority of the landmass is flooded, and the 1% has snatched up its remainder. On top of this, the heat of the day has proven unlivable for the entire population. Thus, everyone must live by night and travel by boat. Who wants to live in a world like this? Nobody. 

Instead, plenty of people would understandably prefer to live in the past. That desire presents a business opportunity for Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman), who can provide people with time in “The Tank,” a next-level sensory deprivation tank operated by Emily “Watts” Sandess (Thandie Newton). Nick, meanwhile, guides customers to the desired areas of their past they wish to vividly re-experience. Around closing time one night, a beautiful woman named Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) comes in, pleading for a quick dip in the tank so she can find an earring she lost earlier that evening. Nick obliges, despite Watts’s objection. But what was supposed to be a simple, quick job soon turns into a dark journey of obsession into the past for Nick after Mae disappears shortly after leaving his premises.

I’ll go ahead and get this out of the way. I doubt any film will combine science fiction and noir better than the Blade Runner (1982-2018) duology. I’d stake my past and future on that. But Westworld (2016-2022) vet Lisa Joy, who makes her feature film debut as a writer-director, creates a tangible environment and atmosphere in Reminiscence. Albeit, one where the green screen of it all is very noticeable on occasion.

I became invested rapidly during the first act of this movie; although heavy on the exposition, the characters and the world-building had my attention. I became even more intrigued when the solid performances, in conjunction with the narrative, began to evoke echoes of Alfred Hitchcock’s noir classic (and second-best movie, in my opinion), Vertigo (1958).

Alas, Reminiscence begins to lose steam not long after that. Despite the film’s just under two-hour runtime, it felt much longer than that for its last third. Unsurprisingly, the film seems to suffer from similar pacing issues I found Westworld to be plagued with, which is fitting since the two have a similar tone and some of the same talent in front of and behind the camera. While it is one of the most original films you’ll see this year, I can’t go so far as to call it unique. Sadly, the film goes from a high-concept premise to relying on predictable noir tropes in its overly-long third act (during which I admit to occasionally checking my watch).

But, even with these issues, Reminiscence still manages to draw an emotional response from me regarding its themes. The film is also an original genre hybrid piece aimed at adults. Despite its PG-13 rating, the film has a dark and mature tone that feels R-rated. Consequently, I also want to thank Warner Bros. for supporting Joy, and her team, and releasing an original sci-fi piece. Reminiscence, much like memory itself, is ultimately flawed. Even still, I’d recommend giving it a chance if you’re a fan of these genres. 

Reminiscence is Currently Playing in Theaters & will be Available on HBO Max Until September 19.


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