Reminiscence

STREAMING REVIEW: 

Warner/HBO Max;
Sci-Fi;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for strong violence, drug material throughout, sexual content and some strong language.
Stars Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton, Cliff Curtis, Brett Cullen, Natalie Martinez, Angela Sarafyan, Mojean Aria, Marina de Tavira, Daniel Wu, Nico Parker.

Memories of happy times can often be a bittersweet reminder of things lost, particularly when nothing better comes along to supplant them.

That seems to be a motivating dilemma in Reminiscence, an ambitious sci-fi mystery from in the mold of a Christopher Nolan thriller. As with most Nolan noir, Reminiscence is marked by a time-shifted non-linear narrative built around a high-concept sci-fi hook — in this case, a device that helps people re-live their favorite memories as if they were new.

Hugh Jackman plays a nostalgia merchant named Nick who runs a business where people can pay to use such as machine. The film is set sometime in the near future in a Miami flooded by rising oceans, where peoples’ everyday lives tend to be so depressing they’d rather turn to the past for a respite.

Late one night, a woman named Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), a singer at a local nightclub, walks in and asks to access her memories to find her lost keys. Nick is immediately obsessed with her, sparking a brief relationship that ends when she vanishes without a trace. Unwilling to let her go, Nick delves into his memories with her, until his partner and former war buddy (Thandiwe Newton) forces him to face reality.

Nick also takes contract work with the district attorney to depose criminals by retrieving their memories. When he discovers Mae in the memories of the associate of a drug lord, Nick sets off on a quest to uncover exactly what happened to her, even if it means learning she wasn’t exactly who she claimed to be.

Reminiscence was written by and marks the directorial debut of Lisa Joy, whose husband, Jonathan Nolan, is Christopher Nolan’s brother and frequent collaborator. The husband-wife team, who co-produced the film as well, also developed and produce HBO’s “Westworld,” a show with equally trippy sci-fi themes about the nature of identity and existence.

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The sci-fi trappings of Reminiscence make for a visually arresting experience, though the story and premise are often reminiscent of other films. The pairing of Jackman of Ferguson, for example, immediately brings to mind their teaming in The Greatest Showman, in which she also played a singer who caught the eye of a Jackman character (P.T. Barnum in that case). The drifting in and out of dreams to drive the narrative has echoes with Christopher Nolan’s Inception, which dealt with dreams instead of memories. And the very idea of memory manipulation, leading to questions of what is really happening or not, bring to mind films such as Total Recall. The depiction of a future world that has shifted its day-to-day routine around the culture of water travel, while interesting in its worldbuilding possibilities, seems a bit like a proto-Waterworld.

Still, if not as profound as its cinematic cousins in the Nolan canon, Reminiscence should manage to provide an entertaining diversion for a couple of hours, however fleeting the romance at its heart might be.

In addition to playing in theaters, Reminiscence will stream on HBO Max through Sept. 17.

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