Reminiscence, Romantic Yet Reheated Christopher Nolan

Given his influence on pop culture, Christopher Nolan’s style and aesthetic flourishes were bound to be copied at some point in the future. We’ve already seen it to some extent via folding cityscapes in Marvel’s Doctor Strange. From Westworld co-creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan (there it is), Reminiscence is a strangely romantic throwback to the crime noir fiction of early to mid-twentieth century film, and probably the best example of Nolan’s cascading influence, not only on big-budget filmmaking, but apparently his brother as well. Hugh Jackman is Nick Bannister, a working stiff running a service for reliving memories via oldfangled technology that allows the customer to essentially re-live the best moments of their life while unconscious, half-submerged in a water tank. He and his business partner Watts (Thandiwe Newton) get by on selling nostalgia to the masses, a powerful addiction in the post-modern era, or a post-climate change era for that matter. The film is set in a future Miami where extreme heat has forced society to turn nocturnal, working by night and sleeping by day, and the seas have risen far enough to sink half the city in water, transforming it into a seedier, less tourist-friendly Venice. From water as a common visual motif and the quasi-scientific yet philosophical ruminations on the inner-workings of human frailty, anyone can’t help but think of Nolan’s iconic Inception.

When Nick is smitten with a nightclub singer (Rebecca Ferguson) using them to find her lost keys, he gets more than he bargained for when they fall in love and she suddenly disappears, leading him down a convoluted rabbit hole of drug money, local gangsters (Daniel Wu) and greedy land barons (Brett Cullen, Marina de Tavira) with skeletons in their closet. Joy’s exposition is by turns subtle and sledgehammer, using exquisite visual effects and production design to sell the new world of nocturnal dating and nighttime boat traffic. Cribbing from noir, she also makes the mistake of investing in narration as a means of explaining these characters and the world they inhabit. If a filmmaker wants to honor the kitschy trappings of crime noir, best to go all in on the homage than merely borrowing bits and pieces. Narration is a tricky tool, and can often come across as lazy and disingenuous versus a means of homage. Joy’s writing here follows the former, giving Jackman one too many fortune cookie monologues and undermining the otherwise excellent world-building. Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson enjoy great chemistry, reuniting after their smash hit The Greatest Showman. In fact, a scene in a nightclub where Ferguson sings “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You, Baby” by Cigarettes After Sex, as a captivated Nick looks on, might be a top ten 2021 film moment. Newton proves an appropriately sardonic sidekick, binge-drinking her way out of depression as she seeks to forget her past while everyone else is running back to theirs. By the end, in spite of its dubious flaws and unfortunate comparisons to Inception (the ending doesn’t help), Reminiscence can at least be commended for attempting originality in an increasingly branded world, and for delicately handling a rather complicated romantic tale.

P.S. A visceral fight scene between Jackman and Cliff Curtis is a rare if effective action sequence here, culminating in a gorgeous underwater epilogue that puts to shame Hollywood’s recent affinity for faking underwater scenes.

Grade: B-

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