My normal weekend routine involves a trip to the movie theaters. It was one of the tough parts about the COVID lockdown, not being able to go to the cinema. Even before I began The Legionnaire, regular theater attendance was a part of my activities. I once spent an entire year going every week, and keeping a log of the films I saw. That may not seem all that earth shattering a revelation for someone who now watches a movie every day, sometimes two in a day. Back then, it was a New Year’s Resolution, but also for the sheer joy of going. Perhaps one of these days I will dust off the old film log and review some of the entries from that time. Getting back to more recent times (it is hard to believe that was roughly fifteen years ago), I was surprised when the film I had seen several trailers for was not premiering in any of my nearby theaters. Hence, the streak is broken once more. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The movie I meant to go out for is the mess that is Reminiscence, and I am happy that it is on HBO Max and therefore did not have to spend extra money on it.
Set in some indeterminate, semi-dystopian future where something happened to make the water levels around the world rise, Reminiscence (despite its title) does little to fill you in as to how things got to be the way they are. There is something about a war, and our main character, Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman), fought in it. Nowadays, he runs a struggling business with a former comrade in arms, Emily “Watts” Sanders (Thandiwe Newton), where they hook people up to a machine that allows them to relive their most cherished memories. Why they have to be partially submerged in water, I do not know, but I guess that part does not totally matter. Or does it? If there is one thing I know about science, it is that electricity and water do not mix, but I digress. Business is going okay until one day there walks into his premises the vivacious Mae (Rebecca Ferguson). Nick is immediately taken in by her, and though her reason for being there is to simply find some keys she misplaced, he cannot get enough of her. There follows a whirlwind romance of a few months until, suddenly, she is gone. Nick takes this hard. Finding her comes to consume him, much to Watts’ annoyance. They are turning away paying customers because he spends time in his own contraption studying his memories of her for clues. It even begins to spill over into the work they do for the police. When Nick and Watts are called into court to extract memories from a criminal that would link him to a gang leader, Saint Joe (Daniel Wu), Nick is further tantalized when Mae turns up in that image. It is from five years ago, and in New Orleans to boot, but it is enough to have our erstwhile hero charging off to the Crescent City. While there, it is revealed that Mae had once been in Saint Joe’s employ, but had become a drug addict before making off with a bunch of money and fleeing to Miami where she eventually met Nick. Also in the memory they had extracted from the criminal is one Cyrus Boothe (Cliff Curtis), a corrupt policeman (which they all are, apparently) that is seemingly in league with Mae. There is some other confusing stuff that goes on here, involving a rich family known as the Sylvans, and an affair being had by the patriarch Walter Sylvan (Brett Cullen) with Elsa Carine (Angela Sarafyan). Their tryst resulted in a child, and when Walter dies, the family is desiring to cut off the boy from any inheritance Walter might have left to Elsa and her child. Therefore, they seek out Cyrus’ services, who then uses Mae (given their former association with Saint Joe) in order to steel the necessary memories from Nick. Elsa had been Nick’s client, and he kept a repository of the reminiscences in a vault. Once Nick is able to track down Cyrus, he forces him into the tank and learns not only the whole sordid truth about the Sylvans, but also what happened to Mae. During the course of Nick’s investigations, he had been beginning to believe that his relationship was a lie, a ruse to get close to him for the information he possessed. However, before being murdered by Sylvan, she demonstrated her care for Elsa and her child, and her love for Nick. This sends him a fresh wave of grief, and in vengeance he decides to “burn” Cyrus, which I do not know how to explain. Something about overloading the brain with electricity and false memories, or whatever. Anyway, this is a serious crime, but because Nick helps locate the boy and put things right with the Sylvans, it seems that is enough to keep him out of jail. Instead, he imposes his own sentence on himself, spending the rest of his life in the tank remembering his time with Mae. The end.
My explanation for why Reminiscence is so bad is this: it was like they filmed a collection of scenes, put them in a bag, dumped them on the ground, and whatever order they landed in is how they cut the movie. My distaste for non-linear plots is well-documented, and while this is not as crooked or backwards as some, it is enough. As it turns out, the whole film is a memory of Nick’s some twenty years in the future, and his body is tended to by Watts. It would seem he had been plugged into his own machine for two decades, and I guess in this world people in that state do not need to eat or take care of any other bodily functions. That was where my mind went immediately, anyway. To a degree, I will confess this concept makes some sense. When you look back over your life, do you see it as a collection of moments, or as an easily followed narrative? The film basically describes our brains as such. As with most of us, we probably see our experiences as a set of flashpoints. Yet, stringing these together does not make for good cinema, and it ultimately becomes frustrating to watch. Try it sometime. Describe your brain to someone else and see if they can follow along. Another thing that I am pretty sure our brains cannot do is see a specific memory as through the perspective of anyone else. I say this because there are aspects of these projected thoughts that can only be the result of multiple camera angles, as if the whole thing were being filmed. . . .
Now that I have torn Reminiscence down, allow me to build it back up to a slight degree. I cannot emphasize those last few words enough. The memories that people experience when they use Nick’s machine are described as a drug. Hence, Nick is getting high on his own supply, which makes him a tragic figure. There is some truth to this notion. Nostalgia can kill you. I cannot say I am innocent of being stuck in the past, at times. It is also something I have seen in my training as a spiritual director, and in working with my directees. The things we have gone through tend to wound us, and more often than not, it is why people seek spiritual direction. One thing that is stressed early on, though, is that spiritual direction is not therapy. Therapists have a specific job, and it is separate from the role of a spiritual director. And yet, healing does take place in spiritual direction. It is really nothing that a directee does. We are taught merely to be a mirror to the directee, a conduit through which they can draw closer to God. All we directors can do is reflect God’s love. Nick does not take this tact. He seems to realize all the lessons, and then opts for the worst possible solution: to lose himself in his memories. It is a tempting to path. Who among us would not want to relive the happiest moments of our lives. While God is Lord of past, present, and future, for us the route to Him is always before us. Thus, while I like the warning about living in the past, I wish Nick would have taken his own advice.
Then again, Reminiscence does remind us that it is easy to say such things like “MOVE ON!” and yet another to follow it. I have never liked it when people have said that to me. It always comes off as empty and un-empathetic. None of this should be considered a reason to watch the film. It is ultimately aggravating, and of small value. The impeding threat of water swallowing up everything is never realized. There is nothing else of satisfaction. Instead, try praying for a time.