Marjorie Prime - This Off-Beat Movie Oddly Rocks
Dir: Michael Almereyda
Starring Jon Hamm, Geena Davis, Tim Robbins, Lois Smith
Almereyda’s latest is based on a play (as much of his more notable work is, this time by Jordan Harrison) but, despite being confined largely to one locale, it is anything but stagey.
We are somewhere in the – presumed – near future. We are located in the rather austere and almost clinical beach house of Tess (Davis) and John (Robbins), but we are concerned, initially at least, with Tess’ aged mother Marjorie (a beautifully rounded Smith) as she sits talking to her husband Walter, struggling to recall memories and events from her life as old age and dementia seek to take them away from her. Walter however is not her equal in years. He is instead a good looking forty year old version of himself – in other words Jon Hamm (superb, in an ever so slightly removed, almost un-human performance.) Walter is a “prime” – essentially a hologram pumped full of info, always ready to learn and adapt and designed to comfort “real” people through their grief. It appears that in whatever this future vision is, the notion of memory coupled with loss and bereavement is something that a computer can help us to deal with and assimilate. Their conversations are peppered with anecdotes from their shared (but unshared) past. As Walter urges her to recall them going to see My Best Friend’s Wedding the night “he” proposed years before, he is strong on detail, but maybe lacks emotion, whilst the struggling Marjorie seeks to reinvent it as Casablanca being the film they saw, to enhance to romance (and, very possibly, to remove Rupert Everett from history.)
And thus Almereyda hits upon the crux of his theme. Whilst this could in many ways sit alongside both Her and Ex Machina as a look at how our potential future dependence on AI could come to shape our lives, this is a very different kettle of fish. Marjorie Prime is a film that moves forward to look back. It is a film based around the notion of memory, how much of it is real and how much misremembered, and how much we choose to shape our world around what we think is right – even when we quietly suspect it may not be.
“Primes” are primarily there for people no longer in their prime, whether having been robbed by age, illness of just simple loss and grief. They’re almost a form of denial, but one that our small group of characters seem more and more in need of and dependent on. As the movie progresses, the “prime” in question shifts – not wanting to give too much away.
It’s a delicate film, formal in its manner and its framing both, sensitive to its soundscape – the waves outside this curiously lifeless house blend in with everything from Mozart to The Band to Mica Levi’s beautifully unsettling score. It is blessed with four superb central performances, none more so than a luminous Smith, and Davis who is the best she’s been in…well, we can’t even remember.
Marjorie Prime is a beautifully realised and ever so delicate look at the fragility of how we perceive the world and how that changes as we both age and experience profound loss. By it’s end, it is not only discussing the nature of how memories can become memories of themselves, but also providing us with a very unique and understated look at not just the things that haunt us but the very nature of how we can be haunted. And what form that haunting may take.
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