Warning: SPOILERS for Reminiscence.
Reminiscence uses the ability to access your memories via an elaborate holographic machine as well as narrative time jumps to simulate time travel, and the device is central to the film’s noir-inspired detective mystery plot. Written and directed by Lisa Joy (Westworld), Reminiscence stars Hugh Jackman in the role of Nick Bannister, a “detective of the mind”, who falls in love with a mysterious chanteuse named Mae, played by Rebecca Ferguson. When Mae disappears, Nick becomes obsessed with finding her and discovers shocking truths about her past that change his world.
The trippy visuals of Reminiscence can lead the audience to expect a mind-bending spectacle but Lisa Joy’s story owes more to hard-boiled Hollywood classics like Chinatown and the films of Humphrey Bogart, with the Reminiscence machine servicing the detective plot. Nick’s business, Bannister and Associates, which he runs with his partner Watts (Thandiwe Newton), is upended when Mae walks into their office claiming she needs their help to find her missing keys. Nick and Mae quickly fall for each other but when she vanishes, Nick’s search leads him to abuse his own Reminiscence machine to turn over his own memories of Mae, his unrequited love. This leads Bannister down a rabbit hole where he discovers the truth of who Mae is, why she came into his life, and what her ties are to the criminal element in both Miami and New Orleans.
Meanwhile, Nick’s hunt for answers about Mae is set against the backdrop of a ruinous Miami nightlife that’s been sunken by the ocean due to apocalyptic climate change. Reminiscence is set in an undisclosed point in the not-too-distant future and Nick is a veteran who fought in a war over climate change. Years after the war ended, the people of Miami have become nocturnal to avoid the heat of daylight and most people subsist in the city’s sunken coast while giant walls keep the ocean from submerging the city entirely. Given this grim reality caused by climate change, it’s no wonder people pay Nick to use his Reminiscence machine in order to lose themselves in the happier times of their pasts.
Reminiscence Technology Origin And Rules
Reminiscence only provides scant details about the origin of the technology but the Reminiscence machine emanates from the war fought because of climate change. Nick Bannister served in the Navy but he was drafted for Border Patrol, where he worked as an interrogator. The Reminiscence machine originated as government technology that Nick used to interrogate prisoners by delving into their memories. However, after the war, being able to live in the past and experience your happiest memories repeatedly became something people were willing to pay for as a temporary escape from the harsh realities of post-apocalyptic nightlife in Miami. Somehow, Nick acquired the Reminiscence machine and set up a business in Miami’s Spill-Zone, Bannister and Associate, that allows Nick to charge his clients by the hour to relive their most cherished memories.
To use the Reminiscence machine, clients have to strip down and submerge themselves in the Tank, a water-filled sensory deprivation tube filled. They wear a halo around their heads that links their brain to the machine, and their brain receives 30 volts of electricity. Their memories become 3D holograms projected in a circular chamber Nick and Watts watch. The clients are injected in the neck and sedated with Thiopental. The sedative relaxes the neural pathways for Nick’s prompts, starting with “You’re going on a journey…” At this point, the client goes into “the Lull” as they turn their minds over to Nick’s machine. Nick describes himself as “an oarsman” (a reference to Charon, the boatman of the River Styx in Greek myth) and Bannister uses verbal prompts to guide the clients safely through the memories they wish to experience and keeps them on the proper path. Meanwhile, Watts monitors their synapses and records their Reminiscence. Afterward, the clients’ Reminiscences are storied in Nick’s vault, as his office is actually an old bank Bannister repurposed.
Nick’s Reminiscence machine seems to be the only one of his kind in Miami. Bannister also lends his services to the Miami District Attorney’s office for cases, although they also acquired their own Reminiscence rig from the government that only allows for 2D memory projection, like a movie screen, where the footage is seen in first person POV. Nick’s Reminiscence machine allows for a full recreation in 3D; but given how the brain can play tricks, it also begs the question of how reliable a person’s flashback memories truly are.
The Dangers of Reminiscence Technology
Although Nick’s Reminiscence machine is safe if it’s used properly and the rules of accessing memories are strictly followed, there are dangers to abusing the technology. Because memories are naturally addictive, clients run the risk of losing themselves in their memories with repeated or prolonged use of the Reminiscence machine. As Nick tells Mae, “Memories are like perfume. Better in small doses.” Constantly revisiting the same memories without observing the proper protocols and having someone on the outside like Nick and Watts to pull you back can have the moments you’re revisiting seared into an endless loop in your mind.
Another potentially lethal danger is diverting from the path of your memories. Nick’s prompts are crucial for the client to stay in the proper lane of their own memories because a person can quickly destabilize, shattering their memories, and die from brain damage if they veer down a path that they have no memory for and hit “static.” Nick never used to go into the Tank himself until he became obsessed with solving Mae’s disappearance and he abused the Reminiscence machine (and paid the price).
How Reminiscence’s Technology Drives The Film’s Plot (And Mimics Time Travel)
Compared to the “dream within a dream” technology of Christopher Nolan’s Inception, Reminiscence’s machine and its uses are more straightforward. The device plays a critical role in Reminiscence‘s hard-boiled detective mystery as Nick searches for Mae by exploring all of his memories of his time with her, as well as discovering more and more of her past and who she really was when Mae wasn’t with Bannister. When Mae vanished, Nick abused the Reminiscence machine for months to both be with Mae and search for the answers he sought by repeatedly turning over every aspect of his memories of her.
Everything tied back to Nick’s Reminiscence machine and other characters, his past clients: Elsa Carine (Angela Sarafyan) and Tamara Sylvan (Marina de Tavira). Elsa was murdered as part of a plot to acquire her Reminiscence data file from Nick’s vault, which contains proof of her affair with evil billionaire land baron Walter Sylvan (Brett Cullen), with who she had an illegitimate son that could be an heir to Sylvan’s fortune. Walter’s son Sebastian (Mojean Aria) hired dirty ex-cop Cyrus Boothe (Cliff Curtis) to get rid of Elsa and her son Frankie. Booth then forced Mae, who is secretly a junkie Boothe knew from New Orleans, to seduce Nick Bannister so she could access his vault and steal Elsa’s Reminiscence file. All of the deaths and tragedies in the film emanate from Sebastian Sylvan’s scheme to ensure that his father’s affair and bastard son never threaten his inheritance.
Meanwhile, Reminiscence‘s version of time travel not only involves an immersion into Nick’s and various other character’s memories, but the film also utilizes time jumps to toy with the narrative’s progression. There are two major time jumps involving the Reminiscence machine; the first happens after Mae vanishes when Nick wakes up from the Tank and Watts reveals that it’s been months since Mae’s disappearance and the film’s entire first act was Nick’s memory meeting Mae that occurred in the past. Following a few more loose time jumps as Nick continues to use the Reminiscence machine throughout the film, the final major twist occurs at the end when it’s revealed that Nick and Watts are now older after a time jump to the ending, decades beyond the film’s events.
This means that Nick has been trapped in a time loop of his own memories because he’s been using the Reminiscence machine for decades to relive his love affair with Mae and his investigation of her disappearance (while being cared for by Watts). Reminiscence turns out to have entirely taken place in the past and the entire film was comprised of Nick’s elaborate memories, which he has spent the remainder of his life happily lost in looking for and being reunited with his memories of his lost love, Mae.
Next: Everything We Know About Reminiscence 2
- Reminiscence (2021)Release date: Aug 20, 2021
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