In the near future, a time of artificial intelligence: 86-year-old Marjorie has a handsome new companion who looks like her deceased husband and is programmed to feed the story of her life back to her. What would we remember, and what would we forget, if given the chance?
The film won the Sloan Feature Film Prize, which includes a $20,000 cash award, presented at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. The award jury awarded the film for its "imaginative and nuanced depiction of the evolving relationship between humans and technology, and its moving dramatization of how intelligent machines can challenge our notions of identity, memory and mortality." See more »
"The future will be here soon enough, you might as well be friendly with it." Marjorie (Lois Smith)
Of my many blessings, memory is not the precise gift of most of my friends. I do excel at giving my impressions rather than facts, a talent itself not always impressive. The slow-moving but serious sci-fi drama, Marjorie Prime, treats a time in the near future when holograms can be created to simulate the presence of loved ones who have died.
As in Spike Jonze's Her, technology is friend and foe at the same time. Such a hologram re-creation is fraught with problems, not the least of which is supplying the creation with accurate memories. Those are as imperfect as William James predicted in his repetitive-copying description, where memories leave accuracy behind with each re-recollection.
This film, an adaptation of Jordan Harrison's Pulitzer nominee, starring Lois Smith in the titular role of an 85 year old calling forth her former husband as a middle-aged man, gently makes that point with the hologram, Walter (Jon Hamm). It asks for information or clarification, moments that break the intimacy spell to remind the living that their loving creations are just that: "I'll remember that now," says stoic, affectless Walter.
Director/writer Michael Almereyda takes the Walter hologram into a static interpretation that belies the humanity and emphasizes the robotic nature of the creation. Emotion is missing, that ineffable element of loving so more important than the physical. In that regard the film succeeds in showing the second-rate nature of remembering facts when juxtaposed with emotion. As an imperfect memorist, I feel much better.
The placid sea-side setting, shot in muted color on Long Island, with the water as emblem of the fluid nature of memory, is effective for relaying the elusive nature of that faculty: "The stream of thought flows on; but most of its segments fall into the bottomless abyss of oblivion. Of some, no memory survives the instant of their passage. Of others, it is confined to a few moments, hours or days. Others, again, leave vestiges which are indestructible, and by means of which they may be recalled as long as life endures." William James
Although Marjorie interacts with more than one hologram (certainly most lives have layers of past loved ones to be recalled if needed), the film accomplishes making us aware of the complex business of remembering, its imperfection, and its reflection of our own uncertain place in the memory of humanity.
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