'Reminiscence' Movie Review: Hugh Jackman Has a Total Recall Matrix

In 1995, the sci-fi movie Strange Days promised that in the distant future of 1999, we would be able to record our memories for complete sensory playback. The new Hugh Jackman movie Reminiscence improves upon the technology, and is also smart enough not to set such a near deadline. 

We can ‘Reminiscence’ for you wholesale 

Nick Bannister (Jackman) runs The Tank. Customers pay to sit in the water tank with a headset on. With Nick’s vocal guidance, he can take customers back to any memory in their life and let them experience it all over again. Nick can also watch the replay in three dimensions via the hologauze, a chamber where the memory plays before him.

Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) comes to Nick looking for help finding her lost keys. It’s kind of cool to see the most elaborate science-fiction premise used for the most mundane reason we would all think about in the real world. Nick and Mae fall in love, so when Mae disappears, Nick becomes obsessed with locating her via his memories. 

‘Total Recall’ meets ‘The Matrix’

The technology of Reminiscence is fascinating and emotional. The Tank is basically a matrix, only our own minds construct the reality, not villainous machines. Total Recall suggested that if you implant a memory it could be as real to you as any you’ve experienced. Nick’s not making any up, but he can curate memories. It’s also a higher tech version of a little seen Ray Liotta movie called Unforgettable, where he could inject the memories of a dead person to solve a mystery.

Reminiscence also addresses the nature of memory. For example, Nick’s hologauze shows its subject in third person, because we tend to see ourselves in the third person in memories, even though we experienced them firsthand. It’s a trip, but the whole point of the movie is living in the past vs. the present. Nick becomes like his clients, obsessed with memories of days gone by.

And Nick is aware of the danger. He warns other clients about getting stuck in an endless loop of memory, and Reminiscence shows us a near miss. So there are dangerous limits to The Tank, but the real issue is the emotional one. Nick’s partner Watts (Thandiwe Newton) is correct, that their clients, and now Nick, are not living their lives anymore. 

It’s a balance all human beings have to strike. The past matters, and it would be unwise to make present decisions without factoring in history. Thinking about joyous memories is positive enough so sure, the opportunity to literally relive them would be tempting. Like any tool, moderation would be key. The protagonist of Strange Days also obsessed over his memory recordings. But then, people can be addicted to social media too, so it’s relevant to any tool, not just memory. 

The fact that it’s Ferguson justifies a lot. The same way she brought physicality to her Mission: Impossible and Doctor Sleep roles, she makes Mae an utterly captivating femme fatale. It’s easy to see why Nick became her sap. Watts is correct that Nick needs to move on from Mae. Whatever answer he finds, she’s still gone and he’s still here. By following Nick’s quest, we’re sort of enabling his self-destructiveness. 

‘Reminiscence’ didn’t need action 

As such, the mystery is the least interesting part of the movie. Yes, Nick has an emotional need to find Mae, but the mechanics of it are basic revelations of clues. You almost wish Reminiscence were a TV series so you could spend more time in this world and exploring different facets of memory. The flooded future looks like what Venice must have been like in Blade Runner

The mystery is a fine vehicle into this world, though. All the details come together in the end, as the Easter eggs have been hidden in the memories Nick watches. The only jarring sequences are two action scenes. 
Reminiscence didn’t seem like one of Jackman’s action movies.

Sci-fi tends to lean on action, and action didn’t hurt aforementioned movies like Total Recall or The Matrix, but Reminiscence really seemed like more of a cerebral science-fiction purely about ideas. Well, maybe it’s too much to ask for an original science-fiction movie for adult viewers that relies entirely on ideas. The ideas are still there so the gunfight and foot chase/fistfight are bonuses.

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