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Romance in Reminiscence haunted by memories

By Jana Monji, AsAmNews Arts & Culture Writer

Lisa Joy’s feature film directorial debut, Reminiscence, relies heavily on the voice of leading man, Hugh Jackman.

Joy, a Taiwanese American hapa, takes us to a dystopian world where a military-trained consultant and interrogator, Nick Bannister, (Jackman) uses a high tech brain reading device to both help people relive pleasant experiences, but also to investigate crimes. When his lover disappears, he launches his own investigation.

The film constantly warns us there won’t be a happy ending, not in a world where war and global warming have left most of the population clinging to life in half-submerged cities.

Meanwhile, the very rich live in a separate world behind high walls. 

Eventually the water will take over and there are no quaintly romantic gondola rides. Still this is a romance in a private investigator noir fashion in a world that has literally gone noir. Miami is a ghost town during the day because of the overwhelming heat. At night, the people move furtively around, but “sleep doesn’t come easy” because “we’re all haunted by something.”

Bannister is a man hardboiled by a war, a direct descendant of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (World War II) and John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee (Korean War). Along with the alcoholic Watts (Thandiwe Newton), one of his wartime cohorts, Bannister runs a business that uses old military interrogation equipment to access memories that can be recorded on glass plates which he then stores in a vault. But this isn’t a bucks-driven business; Bannister gives freebies to friends. 

Warner Bros

Bannister’s gift is his voice and Hugh Jackman reminds you that his is a wonderful instrument, often lost in the excesses of Wolverine comic-book on-screen persona. The voice is firm, but not harsh. Eroded by the reality of a world on the brink of drowning in the ocean, Bannister’s voice has a smooth, soft sentimental feel. It’s a voice that can be trusted in slumber.

With the help of drugs, the suspected perp is fitted with electrical headgear and set inside a sensory deprivation tank. Lying down to float in a foot of  water, the person listens to Bannister’s voice seductively guide them through their memories. 

Some return to lost loves, replaying a happy moment over and over again, producing a happiness that is as addictive as a drug. A woman remembers when her husband was in love with her and she was pregnant with their son. A man remembers his true love who is long dead. A woman remembers a specific tryst with her lover who has left her.

Bannister also warns, “But memories, even good ones, have a voracious appetite. If you’re not careful, they consume you.” Further, “if you’re not careful, you can get burned, have the moment seared in an endless loop in your mind.”

These sentimental journeys are not the only thing that keep Bannister and Watts afloat financially. They are also called in to investigate crimes and that means there are rules and regulations about what one can and can’t do under with this technology.

With police corruption and dishonest land barons as well as simmering unrest, “the DA’s office is never short of work.”

In their office, the memories are projected inside a small circular arena as shimmering holograms for both Bannister and Watts to witness. The guide must not push or frighten the subject and never ask to go down pathways that don’t exist. Bannister says:

One night near closing, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) walks in because she wants to find her keys. She eschews modesty, stripping down from her cheap red dress, so starkly naked that Bannister averts his eyes. The keys are found, but the woman, a singer, has already burned her image and voice into Bannister’s primal brain and she has forgotten her earrings. Returning her earrings, Bannister visits her at a cheap dive called the Coconut Club where she sells the lie of perfection. They begin a torrid affair, but when she disappears–settling up with her landlord and emptying her apartment, Bannister seeks her by reliving her recorded memories and his memories of them together. He finds himself entangled in a world of crime that takes him to New Orleans, where he faces a Chinese American drug lord, Saint Joe.

Warner Bros

Saint Joe is a survivor of internment camps, an ABC-mother’s nightmare. In this Neo-noir, Saint Joe is Joy’s most delightfully treacherous creation. Daniel Wu imbues him with a sleazy malevolence that oozes with dangerous insinuations while speaking a Southern drawling Chinglish.

As with any noir story, expect double crosses, crimes and deaths. Bannister wonders who Mae is when she’s not with him. While you might wonder if the heavy narrative voiceover is an example of telling rather than showing, the narration fits in with the theme and the ending.  

Joy, co-creator, writer, director, and executive producer of the HBO science-fiction drama series Westworld (2016–present), has created a fully realized nuanced world, with plenty of neo-noir atmosphere under the lensing of Paul Cameron, and the editing of Mark Yoshikawa smoothly transitions from memory to reality and back.

When old age comes, maybe it is both a blessing and a curse that we lose our memories, but what is heaven and what is hell within the memories locked in our brains? Joy’s Reminiscence considers the choices we make for love in a detailed Neo-noir world that I wouldn’t mind revisiting to discover the backstories of other characters. 

Reminiscence was release on August 20, 2021 at theaters and on HBO Max (30 days). 

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