Nick Bannister, a private investigator of the mind, navigates the alluring world of the past when his life is changed by new client Mae. A simple case becomes an obsession after she disappears and he fights to learn the truth about her.
In the opening minutes of Lisa Joy’s “Reminiscence,” a haunted man finds a playing card – the Queen of Hearts, mind you – on a rain-soaked street. This is the first of many allusions the filmmaker makes over the course of this intriguing movie, one that cleverly melds film noir tropes with science fiction conventions to create a uniquely poignant feature, one that simultaneously appeals to our love of the movies as well as joy of becoming immersed in a well-told tale.
Robert Mitchum wasn’t available so Hugh Jackman assumes the role of the doomed man for Joy’s purposes. He’s Nick Bannister, a burnt-out veteran residing in the very near future. Just as we’ve been warned, the ice caps have melted, sea levels have risen and it’s only a matter of time before the world is flooded. With no future to look forward to, citizens resort to looking to the past in search of illusionary happiness. Bannister and his fellow vet Watts (Thandiwe Newton) run a business that allows you to relive any memory of your choosing, all of which they witness, while in an immersion tank. Addictive to say the least.
However, that habit is nothing compared to the monkey that takes up residence on Nick’s back when he meets Mae (Rebecca Ferguson). Using the excuse that she’s lost her keys and needs a session in order to find them, she slinks into our hero’s life. It’s all a ruse, one Nick is blind to, dazzled by the woman’s allure. Love, or something like it, follows but, of course, it can’t last. And when Mae disappears, Nick embarks on a fevered journey to find her, accessing his own memories and those of others in an effort to discover exactly who she was and why she left.
The rabbit hole Nick falls down is replete with shocking revelations, narrative switchbacks and more heartache than any man should bear. Along the way, nods to “Laura,” “Vertigo” “The Manchurian Candidate,” “Blade Runner,” “Dark City,” “Minority Report” and “Inception” are made, Joy acknowledging the debt she owes to these groundbreaking films which paved the way to the making of her own.
And while this suggests “Reminiscence is simply a pastiche of previously explored themes and conventions Joy manages to create something distinctive enough so the film can stand on its own. She devotes a great deal of time exploring Mae’s background, revealing the tragic circumstances of her life, providing an understanding as to why she does what she does. Unlike Jane Greer’s Kathie from “Out of the Past,” or Jean Simmons’ Diane from “Angel Face,” damaged women who were seemingly evil for evil’s sake, Mae’s motivation is understandable, despite the harm she causes. As a result, she’s much more sympathetic, our emotional investment in her, and by extension Nick, more palpable. Jackman delivers his usual reliable performance while Ferguson has the Femme Fatale act down pat. It requires an actor of her charisma to convince us that a relatively sane man would go to the ends of the Earth to save her.
Like so many modern movies, this is hampered by unnecessary action scenes, one prolonged sequence likely to test the patience of even the most engaged viewer. However, Joy rights the ship during the final 15 minutes, a gripping, poignant conclusion that not only contains stunning revelations but a genuinely haunting denouement. In the end, “Reminiscence’s” meta-narrative isn’t simply a valentine for movie buffs or fans of film noir, but a cutting edge, haunting examination of obsessive love, the sort best enjoyed in the dark.