Let’s talk about Reminiscence, the big SciFi movie with Hugh Jackman that just dropped on HBO Max.
Reminiscence is a story about memories but is it as good as Memento? Here we follow Nick, a former soldier who now has a business of helping people revisit their happiest memories over and over, in order to escape the sad present.
Since this neo-noir flick will leave you wanting more, we run down the best scifi movies that don’t treat the audience like it’s dumb.
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Full show transcript below:
Let’s talk about Reminiscence, the big SciFi movie that just dropped on HBO Max with absolutely no hype about it. This Hugh Jackman flick landed on the streaming app without any of the buzz you’d expect surrounding such a high-profile actor.
Since my TiVo Stream 4K kept recommending it, I gave it a chance…and here’s my review.
First of all, let’s talk about the plot.
Like the name says, Reminiscence is a story about memories, and here we follow Hugh Jackman as Nick. He’s a former soldier who now has a business of helping people revisit their happiest memories over and over, in order to escape the sad present.
This present is shown pretty much as a vision from climate change activist’ worst nightmares. It’s a world too hot to inhabit, where the waters have risen so much, the coastal places are pretty much drowned.
Only the rich live on completely dry land, building dams to separate themselves from the plebs.
They’re hamfistedly called land barons in this movie, which loves to hit you over the head with totally unsubtle themes and metaphors.
And thanks to this global warming thing, you have the first obvious metaphor – the waters everywhere are a metaphor for time, because as you know, in most philosophy 101 courses they tell you time is a river.
The machine Nick uses to guide people to revisit their memories also has them submerged in water, diving into their past so to speak.
The movie itself starts with visuals of water rushing through the city, and Nick bending to pick up a Queen of Hearts from the overflowing gutters.
It’s a visual that sets the noir tone of this flick, and also works on multiple levels as a metaphor.
For one, the hustler who lost the card asks Nick if he’ll be able to find his queen, a foreshadowing of the main story.
You see, Nick is in love with a woman who disappeared mysteriously, and has to revisit his and others’ memories time and time again in order to figure out where his woman went.
To make it real obvious, the woman he loves is a redhead, so the Queen of Hearts is a pretty on-the-nose foreshadowing device. But this also works as a more subtle reference. I don’t know if it happened to you, but if you remember those street magicians and hustlers, they always ask you to find the Queen of Hearts in a deck of cards.
Then proceed to fleece you, because there’s no queen in that deck…so just don’t engage with street magicians, ok? You can thank me later for that tip.
Anyway, something like that is also what happens to Jackman. In his quest to find out what happened to his girl, he discovers he was the victim of a hustle all along.
I’d say I had the same experience as him. I got conned into expecting a neo-noir thriller with plenty of pulp, but all I got was a low-budget, mushy mix of better movies.
It’s got parts of Inception, parts of Chinatown, some Blade Runner visuals…but none of the soul of those movies.
I’d say most characters other than Jackman’s sidekick, the alcoholic Watts played perfectly by Thandie Newton, are either terribly undeveloped or just boring to watch.
The femme fatale and obvious love interest Mae is so cheesy, you’ll eye-roll yourself into a migraine.
She shows up in this movie wearing a flimsy dress and a drape on top, asking Nick to use his machine in order to remember where she put her lost keys. Then, in like 3 seconds flat, she gets undressed and starts flirting shamelessly with him.
Obviously, he falls hook, line and sinker for everything she says, because of the old noir detective plus femme fatale tropes, and all logic goes out the window.
Couple that with a scene where she’s on stage doing what femmes fatales do best – like wear red dresses and sing in raspy voices, and the poor dude is simply doomed into loving her.
Here, I think the makers wanted to evoke Rita Hayworth moving seductively in Gilda, but couldn’t even mimic Jessica Rabbit.
Mae simply doesn’t have the charisma required to pull off such a role, and there’s a notable lack of cigarette smoke to set the mood.
As you move into the second act, the movie tries to move from the noir shtick into the scifi area, so it becomes more and more about how Nick uses the machine to explore his memories.
You see, after a whirlwind romance, Mae simply vanished into the aether, so Nick has to find her. He keeps going back to examine his memories looking for clues, which kickstarts a series of Chinatown-like twists and turns. Unfortunately, unlike in that one, none of the characters here are developed enough to make him care.
Did she love him, did she love him not are all questions the movie wants you to ask yourself… but you won’t.
Instead, you’ll ask yourself “who wrote this”, because I kid you not, the dialogue is on par with “It was a dark and stormy night”.
Nick keeps saying stuff like “memories are beads in the necklace of time”. There’s also a repeating and nauseating love scene where he tells Mae the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. He stops just before Orpheus loses her to hell forever, just to end the tale on a happy note.
The repetition is meant to tie-in some of the movie’s acts but just becomes tiring, because you can feel the writer just telling you over and over again “This thing Nick does is him being Orpheus and travelling to hell to get his girl back, get it??”.
And since I was telling you earlier about the overuse of metaphors, they are so on the nose even your 4th grade lit teacher would have a tough time digging deeper into them.
One example is this. So, the movie establishes that you can revisit old memories as much as you like, but you get the risk of getting them burned-in. Your neural pathways or something get fired up in the same patterns and you risk being stuck in that memory.
So, what does Nick do to one of the villains?
He burns-in a memory about him literally getting burned alive because…poetry? It’s like the writer of this movie says “wowww, a burned-in memory about him getting burned – get it??” but, all through this scene, you’ll just cringe at the dialogue.
By the end of this movie, which you kinda see coming, you’ll just want to hang out with his sidekick Watts, doing shots and rolling your eyes at everything the other characters do.
Overall the writing is lackluster, repetitive and derivative – this movie wants to pay homage to better movies and shows, but it simply rips them off like it’s a The Asylum production. Nick’s fate is oddly reminiscent of how Echo, the main character of Dollhouse, reunites with the man she loves after he dies. However, instead of living with those memories, he just turns into a pickle.
At the end there, when she visited him, I expected Watts to throw some garlic, some dill and maybe some mustard seeds into the tub, just to outright say that this dude is in a vegetative state.
Instead, Watts had some more cringe dialogue lines where she explains to her niece, like the poor girl and the audience are five year olds that…you see… she WENT ON with her life but Nick decided to GO BACK into the past.
I don’t even want to go into how, just before Nick retires in brine, the movie suddenly remembers its “global warming” message. We get some rip-offs of the anarchy scenes from The Joker, for no reason whatsoever.*shakes head, eyerolls*
Overall I expected more from Reminiscence, since it’s made by Lisa Joy of Westworld, one of my favorite scifi TV series of all time. I kinda feel sorry for the actors, since all of them tried hard to deliver what was on the page, but the result is flat and cheap.
Movies like Reminiscence
If you want some scifi movies that don’t treat you like you’re dumb, I went through my TiVo Stream 4K playlists to pick the best movies that dealt with similar themes.
Go back to 1999 and watch ExistenZ, a horrifying thriller from David Cronenberg that shows the best virtual technology ever put to screen.
Movies like Reminiscence: ExistenZ
For no reason I can think of, Reminiscence has the memories machine play them out in a sort of Augmented Reality thing for everyone to see.
Never mind the fact that no one would willingly share their most important and private memories with whoever might be in the room, especially a grimy detective. Anyway. Existenz has a game console that connects to people’s actual insides and rewrites reality in terrifying ways.
I’d say give this one a stream instead.
Movies like Reminiscence: Dark City
You could also try Dark City, which I recommended before. This is a movie that came out about the same time as Matrix and did Matrix’s ideas a lot better.
It’s a moody scifi noir where the main character is truly hard boiled and each supporting character jumps to life on the screen, making their story of not being able to live in reality that much more believable.
And lastly, if you want some more and better time travel, try Primer.
Movies like Reminiscence: Primer
This is a very low-budget sci fi movie where almost every character other than the main ones are just friends of the actors. Still, despite the lack of trained actors, Primer is a believable time-travel story that does not dumb down anything for the audience. It has engineers, it has jargon, it has quantum physics, and best of all, it has an unpredictable, engaging story.
Me, I’m going back to my TiVo to watch some sports movies. I’s September, so it’s all about American Football this time of the year, and I plan on putting on CBS Sports HQ and just going through a couple of buckets of popcorn…like I didn’t do when watching Reminiscence.
You should have seen me for this movie – 15 minutes in, I was half snoring, half wishing for my ticket money back…and I actually streamed this one!
What about you, what did you think about this movie? Which parts worked…or didn’t work for you?
Let me know in the comments and, if you didn’t already, please hit like and subscribe to my channel – your support helps me bring you more reviews like this!
Thanks and catch you next week!