Reminiscence Review: Lisa Joy’s Debut Feature Leaves The Audience Only With A Bad Memory

Reminiscence Review: Lisa Joy’s Debut Feature Leaves The Audience Only With A Bad Memory

The tricky aspect of human memories is that they are fragile and malleable. We associate personal feelings with incidents to form a coherent memory. So, whenever we recall an event,  we remember it as we would have liked it to happen, never in its actual shape and form. Because of this complication, even minor events have multiple versions in different people. In her debut feature, Reminiscence (2021), Lisa Joy (co-creator of HBO’s Westworld)  delves into the plastic world of memory. However, her fatal flaw is that she treats human memory with an algorithmic superficiality that neither convinces nor shows any signs of originality.

Reminiscence is set in a bleak world of future Miami. After a climate catastrophe hits and war ensues, people have “nothing to look forward to”. So, they recede to their past and retreat to sweet memories for a moment of solace. In this episode, Nick (Hugh Jackman) and Watts (Thandiwe Newton) run a guided tour to anyone’s past that they want to remember. They also serve as contractual government investigators in some cases.

Reminiscence Review: Lisa Joy’s Debut Feature Leaves The Audience Only With A Bad Memory

Half-sunken Miami in Reminsence (Image courtesy: Amazon Prime)

On one fine day, a  gorgeous lady, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), appears as the typical femme fatale in Nick’s life. Everything from her oh-so-charming appearance to her oh-so-tragic backstory so much screams of swindling, that Nick’s falling for her is mind-boggling, to say the least. Nick takes a romantic sojourn with her for a few months or days (limitations of linear time isn’t a concern here). Inevitably, on another fine morning, she disappears without a trace. In search of his fiancé, Nick’s journey into the dark underbelly of Miami begins.

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The futuristic-noir template where Joy situates the story might remind you of the drab and dreary London of Cuaron’s Children of Men (2006)The slight references and cues from the rich tapestry of classic noir films of Hitchcock (Vertigo (1958) is one, of course) to more dystopian tech-noirs and thrillers such as Blade Runner (1982), Minority Report (2002), Inception (2010) are easy to spot. Unfortunately, none of those are fresh or innovative enough to qualify as a homage.

To give a familiar example, whereas Christopher Nolan (Joy’s brother-in-law) has traversed the less-charted landscape of memory and dream in Memento (2000) and Inception (2010)they had a significant connection with the plotIn Reminiscence, Joy’s ideas of memory, reality, and love doesn’t resonate with its noir underpinnings. In actuality, the script is overwritten to the point of a tedious monochrome of forlorn lovers and wretched humans languishing in their miseries. Add to that, the fusillade of cosseting voiceovers which reduces everything to mere solipsism after a while.

Reminiscence Review: Lisa Joy’s Debut Feature Leaves The Audience Only With A Bad Memory

A still from Reminsence (Image courtesy: Amazon Prime)

Furthermore, Joy tries very hard to reach a level of profundity. However, she spends way too much time laboring on pointless allusions, redundant metaphors, and vague symbolisms. As a result, the characters seem to have feasted on so heavy a diet of philosophy crash course peppered with sentimental slam-poetry, that they can’t help but converse in anodyne aphorisms. So much so that, by the time the film reaches its climax, it starts sinking under its own hyperbolic burden.

In addition to that, Reminiscence swerves off in so many different directions so very frequently and always with such frivolousness, that it gets lost in its own labyrinthine world in no time. It appears as though the director was so preoccupied to stun the audience that she didn’t notice it throwing them off the track.


It is doubly frustrating because glimpses of Lisa Joy’s cinematic vision and glimmers of her dexterity with film language are evident from the vivid images of half-sunken, Gotham-like Florida. Moreover, what a grand waste of Rebecca Ferguson and Hugh Jackman’s acting prowess. Even Ramin Djawadi’s sombre-soulful-melodious background score can’t elevate the moments to their intended level.

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Artists do have the liberty of transcending the limitations of fixed boundaries of plausible reality. Many have done so impeccably. Reminiscence goes forward in that direction but falls flat on its face because of its thematic burden. At one point, Mae asks Nick to tell a happy story and end it before it actually ends in sadness. It would be such a shame if Lisa Joy was aiming in that direction with Reminiscence. Hopefully, she was not, but the hurried and absolutely bewildering ending does give off that impression. 

Reminiscence is streaming on Amazon Prime.

Watch the trailer here.  

Author’s Biographical Note: Parnab Bhattacharya is a freelance writer, currently working as an intern at Explore Screen.

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