“I don’t know what’s right anymore.”
Marjorie Prime is the kind of story necessary of being wrestled and contemplated with, as well as a difficult film that’s every bit as powerful with its subliminal sentimentalities as it is with its pointed realizations. Here – in this futuristic and deeply personal trek through time – memories and realities coalesce as one, going so far as to offer comfort to each other, relatably telling a not-too-distant science fiction tale with a baseline human understanding. I might never sit down to revisit Marjorie Prime; then again, after one puzzling and thought-provoking viewing, I know that its pensive pain will linger long and hard.
With her head fogged by bouts of dementia and debilitating arthritis in her hands, Marjorie (Lois Smith) is no longer physically or emotionally independent. Her daughter Tess (Geena Davis) and son-in-law Jon (Tim Robbins) have moved in to help, as well as the caretaker Julie (Stephanie Andujar). They do what they can to cater to Marjorie’s basic functions: eating, cleaning, bathing. But the 80-year-old still has a mental capacity in need of being exercised. For this, she spends time with an inquisitive, hyper-realistic hologram version of her late husband Walter (Jon Hamm). She knows this “Prime” manifestation isn’t her partner, and yet she uses this talking visualization as a means of literally interacting with her memories. In that regard, Marjorie Prime is a daring dive into the unique building blocks of personhood.
You wonder what you’re watching. Why the performances feel so inhuman, so stiff, so devoid of heart. How this uncharismatic chamber piece could possibly earn a sense of intimacy. What the bizarre conversations might become or ever allude to. These lines of questioning gain traction early; the film comes across as self-indulgent and borderline preposterous. But it stays in that lane for the entirety, never swerving and rarely changing speeds, and by doing so becomes a picture rich with catharsis. Michael Almereyda’s film – guided by the shining light of Mica Levi’s stringy, orchestral score – deconstructs the passage of a life, carefully throwing details towards center stage while hiding others right behind the curtain. Marjorie Prime refuses to be straightforward or easily understood, and it ponders what could potentially come in a time where memories no longer fade out entirely, but merely need to be buffered and refinished. Such a thought scares as much as it excites.
Like looking at an old Facebook page for a now deceased relative, Marjorie Prime explores the finality of existence and how technology/internet bridges the gap between the increasingly expanding and indefinable graveyards of the physical and spiritual realms. Furthermore, by including William James’ theory on the components and methods of remembering, Michael Almereyda’s film moves past the confines of strictly linear storytelling to touch on something rather profound; the more we invest in our memories – in this case, the AI that bring them to life – the more real they’re able to become. It’s one thing to stare yourself down in the mirror and it’s another thing entirely to look into a piece of your mind, to feed it with information, and to desperately hope for the said memory to become real once more. Understated science fiction doesn’t come much more introspective or intelligent than Marjorie Prime.
“The future will be here soon enough. Might as well be friendly with it.”
Rating: 4 out of 5