Blade Runner and Marjorie Prime: Memories on Film

MEMORIES maketh man.

Memories are an integral tool of the brain and are vital to human experience. They tether us to the past and allow us to shape ourselves, our futures.

As we grow up we collect them – good, bad and ugly – and in doing so they help form the core of our perceived existence. We cling to the ones with sentimental value and store, perhaps reluctantly, those which are loaded with pain or regret.

That is until eventually, as a cruel product of age or disease, these memories begin to fade, malfunctioning like a scratched disc or vanishing completely. When they are gone we can, tragically, become an empty vessel, missing the experiences that once made us ‘us’.

With our reliance on memories it is understandable why few moments in cinema resonate as potently as Roy’s ‘Tears in Rain’ monologue at the end of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982).

Rewritten by actor Rutger Hauer just a few hours before the scene was filmed, the speech probes at the audience to reconsider their whole perspective on the film. Roy’s final words, evoking memories of his wonder and love of life, suggest there is something distinctively ‘human’ about this replicant’s experience. Should we have therefore rooted for his survival?

By saving Detective Decker (Harrison Ford), Roy is able to pass his memories on to a person (that is if Decker is not a replicant himself) with the hope that they will not be lost in time, like tears in rain.  In short, Roy realises that to be remembered is to have lived.

Similar themes are explored in Denis Villeneuve’s recent sequel Blade Runner 2049, as K (Ryan Gosling) wrestles with the legitimacy of his own memories. Are they implanted as with replicants? Or are they ‘true’? The very validation of his existence rests upon this.

Total Recall (1990 & 2012) and recent television series Westworld are among those to also delve into this issue of manufactured and implanted memories – a likely reality of our A.I future. In both cases, there are destructive consequences.

For the A.I actors in Westworld, such as Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Maeve (Thandie Newton), the questioning of memories acts as a catalyst for the robots to resist oppression and to escape their programmed passivity.

In this amnesic robotic wild west, to remember the rape, death and horror of a previous day is to have a chance of escaping the relentless cycle of bloody oppression. True memories, not artificial ones, become the route to liberation – to being alive.

Humans may wish to implant memories in the future. Perhaps to reinvent themselves, to give newfound purpose, to forget or to account for absent memories.

In Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2001), the absence of memories results in a torturous, labyrinthine quest for the truth. Leonard (Guy Pearce) uses tattoos and polaroid pictures to keep a track of his disoriented pursuit for the truth of his past.

At the end of 50 First Dates (2004), Lucy’s family attempt to plug the daily gap left by her absent memory. They show her a video catching up with the years she cannot remember with the hope that she can live out the day as ‘herself’ before the cycle of forgetting restarts the next day.

In these instances, the same technology that haunts K, Dolores and Maeve could, possibly, be used to soften the blow of a tragic loss or fill a debilitating amnesic gap.

Marjorie Prime – in cinemas on November 10 – looks to a future where technology enables us to sit down with a hologram of our past self – or a loved one – to discuss and store memories.

Based on a play by Jordan Harrison, this intriguing film compares memories to photocopying a photocopy – they are always gradually dissolving. The holograms of loved ones serve to preserve memories and legacies, as well as providing a mechanism to therapeutically work out unresolved issues, like a fractured mother-daughter relationship.

Michael Almereyda’s film gives a take on the future of memories and how we may be able to shape them. Elderly Marjorie (Lois Smith) teaches the hologram version of her deceased husband (John Hamm) an altered (to be more romantic) version of his proposal to her. A later flashback shows Marjorie had already used creative license on this memory.

Do these notions of implanted or untruthful memories undermine our existence? The closing scene of Marjorie Prime suggest it might. After all, are we anything but a collection of memories? Technology is certain to push the boundaries of these questions in the coming years.

We are already witnessing it taking shape on the big-screen.

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