Movie Review: Reminiscence

*NO SPOILERS*

Back in 2019, I wrote a science fiction mystery novel set in near-future Baltimore. Fusing cyberpunk with classic noir, I fancied myself quite literary for weaving in allusions to the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. But I ultimately shelved the project because beneath the flooded streets and flickering neon, the story lacked soul.

Transplanting the pieces a thousand miles southward didn’t change that.

Promotional image for Reminiscence, courtesy of moviereelist.com.

Netflix’s sci-fi film Reminiscence echoes similar elements to my erstwhile novel, except in a climate-ravaged Miami beset by rising seas. “Drylander” barons stake out inland property, relegating poorer citizens to flooded real estate along the “sunken coast”. Or so the voiceover tells us in hardboiled detective-story style. The circumstances, and those most affected by it, are barely explored. Characters mention wars, but never reveal who was fighting over what. Social and environmental collapse are just an apocalyptic backdrop for a groaningly predictable love story. Throwaway references to the Orpheus myth seem less like allusion than flailing for firmer narrative ground.

Nor is Reminiscence’s namesake technological gimmick used to full effect. Hugh Jackman plays the operator of a neural nostalgia parlor, where clients escape their bleak realities by revisiting happy memories. Naturally, these recollections provide clues to a mystery plot. It could have been a clever story mechanic, had the writers played with the fallibility of human minds. Instead, the protagonist just spots persons of interest in brain-streamed video clips, like a low-rent Minority Report minus the ethical debates. Even Jackman, whose performances I usually enjoy even when he’s not adamantium-clawed and shirtless, lacked verve.

Drug deals and murders aren’t the only crimes revealed in these “reminiscences”: they also exhibit the lazy, reductive sexism that plagues female characters, especially in sci-fi. In an early montage of parlor clients’ memories, the women’s cherished moments all concern romance or reproduction. Where are the good times with friends? Professional triumphs? Blissful interludes alone with nature? The highlight reels of female lives are not limited to babies and boyfriends. Unimaginative gender portrayals continue when the requisite femme fatale oozes through the door, dressed like Jessica Rabbit. The flimsy plot follows in appropriately cartoonish fashion, from “I knew she was trouble the minute she walked in” to “it started as a con, but then I fell in love with you for real!”

It’s a shame, because this could have been a decent movie. Mystery and sci-fi can fuse brilliantly when handled well, and the writers created opportunities to do it. Yet they left the latter unexplored, and paid the former only superficial homage. Marlowesque narration! Crooked cops! A chanteuse with a secret! Popular tropes alone don’t capture the essence of noir, just as a few boats in Miami’s streets don’t constitute cli-fi. Rather than plunge into the depths of its vision, Reminiscence dabbles in the shallows, ending up as insubstantial as a holographic memory.


3 thoughts on “Movie Review: Reminiscence

  1. I haven’t seen this movie, but I don’t have to in order to know that you’re right about the female issues. Despite all of the criticism, and people of multiple genders calling them out over it, Hollywood just… fails to learn much of the time. It’s enough to leave a guy ashamed to be male….

    Hell, even my favorite memories involving women that I was (or am) romantically involved with aren’t all wrapped up in sex or romance. The women I know personally, while I haven’t talked about this with all of them? I know better.

    I don’t understand why this is so hard for other people to grasp, but that might be the autism talking. I know that I perceive some things differently, manifested most often by me easily spotting the subtle or hidden– while the obvious goes right on by without me having a clue….

    Hmmm… maybe Hollywood is on the spectrum? 😉

    Like

    1. I’m not sure it’s hard for individual people to grasp, but changing entrenched industry practices is a longer-term evolution. The slow infusion of new, more varied voices will help. I’m trying to do my bit as a chronically underrepresented female sci-fi author!

      Like

      1. I see your point, but it’s taking a long time even as institutional/industry time goes. I wonder if those “higher up” perceive the attitude change as a threat to their power…?

        Like

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