Hugh Jackman goes on another acid trip back in time in Reminiscence, a science fiction feature set in futuristic Florida where the ability to relive past memories becomes society’s most addictive novelty. Military veteran Nicolas “Nick” Barrister (Jackman) lives in a dystopian version of Miami, where the sea has once again swallowed the land, constantly flooding the streets and causing widespread anarchy. Barrister offers the city an enticing alternative to the chaos — the chance to revisit any memory of their liking.
Business booms for Nick; the residents eat it up like candy. His life changes for the worse when a strange woman, Mae, walks through his doors. What began as “one more job” turns into an incandescent love affair to remember. One complication: Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) isn’t who she claims to be. Her memories reveal involvement in a spate of violent murders; eventually, she too vanishes without a trace. Nick, still in love with Mae, scours desperately through her memories looking for answers. Check out the trailer for Reminiscence below:
Hugh Jackman plays illicit time travel operator Nick Barrister with all the grit and cynicism of past roles, notably Wolverine from X-Men and the titular bounty hunter in Van Helsing. The machine he uses to relive the past is a cross between Charles Xavier’s Cerebro helmet and the grain technology in Black Mirror; the electrodes in the headgear connect to a platform where customers can view their memories like a 3D movie.
Presumably, the images play simultaneously on the platform and inside the user’s head, directly tapping into their mind’s eye. This allows onlookers to watch the clips externally while also letting the customer experience the visions viscerally as if they were occurring all over again. The technology sounds dangerously immersive. “That machine of yours,” Mae asks in the trailer to Hugh Jackman. “How close can you get before the illusion’s broken?” It seems to rely on neurological cues and verbal instructions to push the process along, as Barrister replies, “You’re going on a journey. A journey through memory. All you have to do is follow my voice.” The helmet works a bit like an electroencephalogram, where the nodes directly influence brain activity.
The film’s post-apocalyptic setting is more realistic than viewers realize. The city of Miami in Florida has been struggling with sea-level rise in recent years due to a generally “porous limestone” crust and global warming. Like New Orleans and the Netherlands, Miami is a coastal area; it floods even when there’s little to no rain. The state government has been adopting various flood-control measures that involve massive land reclamation, particularly in wetlands like the Everglades, and other preventative methods like installing more pumps and constructing roads way above sea level.
The premise of Reminiscence, the event that kickstarts the rest of the story, is an outcome that could happen in the near future if the city doesn’t act quickly. Naturally, given such a scenario, sweeping panic will immediately break out, and this is where Hugh Jackman’s Nick Barrister comes in.
Nick Barrister was a soldier when anarchy forced the U.S. army to take over. When he retired, he decided to use a fairly recent temporal technology to offer citizens a convenient reprieve from the flooding and in-fighting — a way to access past memories. The system works so well, it almost feels like traveling back in time. With the present being as unruly as it is and the future uncertain and potentially worse, the past is easily all they have. A life before everything went to sh*t. Like most state-of-the-art machinery, the tech is soon abused by memory junkies.
“When the waters began to rise and war broke out, nostalgia became a way of life,” Nick explains pensively. “There wasn’t a lot to look forward to. So people began looking back. Nothing is more addictive than the past.” Mae and her criminal cohorts presumably used the technology to commit crimes of changing severity. It soon made its way to the criminal underworld, a pawn for men in power. Even Hugh Jackman’s Nick Barrister can’t handle the temptation. He is pulled out of the system after revisiting his own memories and yelps, “No, no, no. Put me back. Put me back.” Despite the bleakness of it all, the images of trains and cars whizzing through the shallows is nothing if not picturesque, like a scene from Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.
But Hugh Jackman’s Nick, having fallen for Mae, is determined to find her and prove her innocence. “She’s moved on,” Nick’s coworker, played by Thandie Newton, retorts. “And you should too.” But Barrister isn’t satisfied. He firmly believes Mae hasn’t simply moved on, that she may in fact be in trouble. “People don’t just vanish,” he says through gritted teeth. Nick is on a race against time searching for her and it all leads back to the machine.
“To find where she’d gone, I had to know where she’d been,” he mutters. “Was she running from the past, or racing back toward it? Who was she? Who was she when not with me? Arson, bribery, murder… People have their secrets.” he adds, listing Mae’s manifold transgressions. Jackman exchanges punches with goons, watches memories of Mae with other men, and holds a man up at gunpoint in pursuit of justice — or perhaps vengeance? Nick screams into a stranger’s face, “Where is she?” Newton’s character can be heard trying to coax him back in voiceover: “Don’t go down this path. Stay here in this life.” But Barrister is a man on a mission and will not be denied his answers. “I’ve turned a blind eye to plenty,” he replies. “I have to do this.” The trailer ends with Hugh Jackman’s Nick sinking slowly into the sea, reaching out to an apparition of Rebecca Ferguson’s Mae in the distance.
Reminiscence was penned and directed by Lisa Joy, co-creator, writer, director, and executive producer of Westworld. The award-winning science fiction HBO series was about a Black Mirror-esque amusement park where android hosts can simulate guests’ wildest fantasies without risk or fear of comeuppance.
Reminiscence has a similar concept with its memory replay business, giving customers an escape they can’t refuse. The film stars Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandie Newton, Daniel Wu, and Cliff Curtis. Newton was also in Westworld. Jackman and Ferguson last worked together in The Greatest Showman as real-life entrepreneur P.T. Barnum and Swedish songbird Jenny Lind. Reminiscence is Joy’s first stab at feature film directing. The movie originally had an April 16 release date, but was delayed by Warner Bros. in favor of Simon McQuoid’s Mortal Kombat. It was moved to August 27 to avoid competing with Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and now August 20.