‘Reminiscence’: A forgettable film about memory and climate change
Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) and Nick (Hugh Jackman) in 'Reminiscence'.

The new science fiction mystery film Reminiscence could have been a fresh way to provide commentary on current world issues with riveting storytelling. Instead, it merely uses bigger, more relevant topics, in vague spurts, in order to push a plot that is neither compelling nor worth its nearly two-hour run time.

Hugh Jackman (The Greatest Showman) stars as Nick Bannister, a private investigator of the mind, who helps clients navigate the past. The technology he operates allows customers to literally relive their memories as if they are happening. Nick’s life is thrown into turmoil when he falls for Mae, played by Rebecca Ferguson (Doctor Sleep). A simple case becomes an obsession after she disappears, and he fights to learn the truth about her. Nick’s pursuit of Mae takes place against a more interesting backdrop where most of the world is halfway underwater, seemingly due to climate change, which resulted in a fictional Border War that left many people destitute. The rich landowners exploit the poor, while the working class struggles to stay afloat—figuratively and literally.

The core of this film deals with the supposed love story between Nick and Mae—“supposed” because the film does a lousy job earning our belief that Nick and Mae are in love. Through a series of flashbacks and fragmented storytelling (done purposefully in this writer’s opinion to drag out this film), we are taken on a journey with Nick in order to figure out if Mae was the wonderful person he thought she was, or if there was something more sinister below her beauty. Nick is our main narrator, and that in and of itself is one of the movie’s major missteps.

That’s because Nick isn’t very interesting in comparison to the other characters we meet living in a climate change-ravaged United States. He’s a veteran of the land wars that took place in the film’s universe, and he seems to be nice enough, but that’s as much as we get from the character, aside from how hard he fell for Mae. Jackman is a charming actor, but he can’t save Nick from coming off as an obsessed man mainly troubled that his dream girl Mae wasn’t the idea of perfection that he built her up to be.

Sure, he may uncover some more sinister plot along the way, but none of that is his concern. The bigger story of corporate corruption and wealth inequality is treated as only a byproduct of Nick’s focus. He’s no hero, not even an anti-hero. There’s no grand epiphany from him that there are bigger things to be concerned about. No, none of that with Nick. He just wants to know if his ex-lover screwed him over.

Thandiwe Newton (Westworld) and Daniel Wu (Into the Badlands) are the standouts of Reminiscence, though tragically underutilized. Newton plays Emily, a veteran with great shooting capabilities and a heavy reliance on alcohol. She’s Nick’s best friend, whom he really doesn’t deserve. Her story is one of a woman running from her own past while living in a near dystopian world. Wu plays Saint Joe, a crime lord in New Orleans who suffered his own injustice in the internment camps that came about during the Border War. Both of these characters have way more interesting stories and quirks than Nick and Mae, but we are only afforded glimpses of their issues.

It also is worth noting that even in a war-torn and climate-changed universe, where the majority of the working poor affected are people of color, the audience is forced to watch the film’s priority given to the two white leads. It’s hardly new when it comes to Hollywood storytelling, but it is definitely overdone.

The biggest problem in this film is the disservice given to the climate change catastrophe and the obvious class warfare brewing in the background. These themes seem to be used as window dressing for a haphazard “love” story. The writer and director, Lisa Joy, had an opportunity to dive into what got the United States to the point where most of the former coastlines are underwater and many people are living in squalor. It could have had Nick take a moment to really give a care to the unrest happening in the streets. Instead, he is possessed by his own small mental world and the woman he may never have really known as well as he thought he did.

We are subjected to Nick’s narration as the movie progresses, where he pontificates on what it means to live, love, and remember. Yet his words ring hollow, despite the flowery language, because Nick never really seems connected to anything other than an illusion of a doomed relationship. The movie wants so badly to feel deep, like the oceans that overtake Miami, but never dives deeper than a puddle.

Interestingly enough, the 1995 film Strange Days used many of the same concepts of Reminiscence (memory technology, civil unrest, war, etc.) but did so without gutting the story of the harder hitting themes. Where Reminiscence shies away from tackling controversial topics for more ambiguous musings, Strange Days goes right for the jugular in all its punk-grunge nineties glory. One could argue, with the plots so similar between the two films, that the creators of Reminiscence borrowed heavily from Strange Days, but somehow missed the point of the older movie entirely.

What the film has going for it are pretty visuals. It’s a gorgeous looking movie, but that alone can’t justify sitting through it for nearly two hours. Perhaps one day soon we’ll get a new major science fiction movie that tackles the very real threat of climate change and wealth distribution. Reminiscence isn’t it.

Reminiscence is currently simultaneously playing in theaters and streaming on the HBOMax streaming service.


Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson is an award winning journalist and film critic. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong love for storytelling and history. She believes narrative greatly influences the way we see the world, which is why she's all about dissecting and analyzing stories and culture to help inform and empower the people.