MEMORIES are vital to the human experience – they validate our present, inform out future and keep us tethered to the past. When our ability to store memories begins to fail, whether it be the result of age or cruel illness, we can start to lose our sense of self.
Without memories what are we?
The importance of memory is why humans, since they had the tools and mental faculties to do so, have tried to documented them in writing or drawings. More recently, photography and videography has added a new visual layer to the way we interact with our memories. The image – and the moving image – allow us to relive and document memories with an accuracy that pen, paper and mind could not be trusted to do so.
Michael Almeredya’s film Marjorie Prime, based on a play by Jordan Harrison, pictures a not-too-distant future when people verbally store their memories using artificial intelligence called Prime. This technology allows people to interact with holograms of deceased loved ones as a means of comfort and as a way to keep their memories alive.
86-year-old Marjorie (Lois Smith) has chosen a much younger holographic Prime version of her late husband Walter (the handsome late 30s or 40-something Jon Hamm) to converse with. They sit on the sofa and discuss the night Marjorie got engaged to Walter while watching P.J. Hogan’s 1997 rom-com My Best Friend’s Wedding. Walter Prime, as it is programmed to do, listens and engages with Marjorie, asking questions and taking in as much information as it can.
Marjorie, who is suffering from early stage dementia, decides the story of her engagement lacks colour. She tells Walter Prime to tweak it – Casablanca makes for a more romantic cinematic backdrop. Despite a brief protest from Walter Prime, the new memory of events is in place. As Marjorie says: The next time we talk it will be true.’
This is the fascinating opening scene of an incredibly affecting and penetrating film from Almeredya. A quiet, intelligent sci-fi study of death, loss and legacy – and how technology could impact on these issues.
Marjorie is not the only one to use Prime. Her daughter Tess (Geena Davis) is at first cautious of the technology before using it as a cathartic way of resolving unsolved tensions with her mother.
Tess’ pursuit of closure is in contrast to the way her mother uses Prime – a difference underlined by flashbacks and Almeredya’s probing camera. For Marjorie, it helps her escape to a time before life’s cruel complications. It allows her to bury supressed, dark memories even deeper and ensure it is the warmer memories of her life that live on.
Tess’ husband Jon (Tim Robbins) appears to be more receptive to the technology. He shares a drink with Walter Prime, telling him stories that Marjorie may have forgotten or wishes not to remember – a mixing of memories that later proves problematic.
Still Jon, who more often than not has a alcholic beverage in his hand, laments the fact he cannot share a drink with his holographic acquaintance. As human as they seem, these holograms are still detached from the essence of our existence – it makes for limited company.
Marjorie Prime is underscored by the moving sounds of Richard Reed Parry and Bryce Dessner’s Wave Movements. A lingering piece of music that ebbs in and out, not only like the waves that surround Marjorie’s beach home, but like a fading memory.
Marjorie Prime features exquisite performances throughout the cast, from holographic Hamm to Marjorie’s caretaker Julie (Stephanie Andujar). It all makes for a film that is deserving of a place on next to Alex Garland’s Ex Machina and Spike Jonze’s Her as the best sci-fis of recent years.
Marjorie Prime is a film both challenging and inquisitive enough to stick in the memory longer than most.