While the MCU is currently using the question, “What if…?” as the basis for their new animated series on Disney+. But for a new movie recently hitting theaters and streaming on HBO Max, that question is haunting Hugh Jackman.
“Reminiscence” is Jackman’s newest film, setting him in a dystopian near-future where coastal cities have flooded, dry land comes at a premium, and hopelessness is around every corner.
Jackman plays Nick Bannister, a former military man who uses virtual reality tech to help people relive past memories like a digital hypnotic regression. The experience — as depicted in the film — can become just as addictive as Baca, the designer street drug that becomes part of the story’s central focus.
The plot is tightly woven with expertly crafted foreshadowing that eventually ties the seemingly random plot points into a solid narrative. Bannister constantly delves back into his own memories of a relationship he had with Mae (Rebecca Ferguson, “Mission Impossible: Fallout”), a now-missing woman with a shrouded past.
The bleak backdrop of a water-logged Miami only adds to the blear atmosphere of this neo-noir detective story that feels like it borrows thematic elements from both “The Maltese Falcon” and HBO’s “Westworld.” Jackman’s voiceover narration adds to this particular tone as does the score’s musical cues.
The latter reference makes sense given that Lisa Joy — an executive producer and writer on “Westworld” — wrote and directed this movie. The plot, characters, and environments look like they could exist as a separate story thread within the larger Westworld franchise.
There’s also a familiar Nolan-esque quality to the plot’s tightness, mysterious character dynamics, and the use of playing with non-chronological time jumps. Some scenes feel like they could have bonus scenes cut from Christopher Nolan’s “Inception”; ironically enough Nolan’s brother Jonathan — also an executive producer on “Westworld” — helped produce this film.
Despite being used to playing more physically engaging characters, Jackman, 52, expertly plays a character feeling his age. The interactions between he and his friend Watts (Thandie Newton) play off a relationship that seems superficial at first before exploring the nature of their friendship.
Jackman’s and Ferguson’s chemistry is organic and steamy; there is a tension between them that indicates something immediately off kilter about the romance for the audience while still being true to the character motivations.
The most interesting thing about the story is how it plays with its underlying themes. There is a constant reminder of how much climate change impacts the film’s setting and environment without it coming across as preachy. The primary theme is addiction.
The narcotic central to the film’s plot is a highly addictive substance; just one hit can hook a user for the rest of their life. But just as addictive is the use of VR to return to past memories to relive an experience over and over again ad infinitum. Too much use without proper regulation can permanently stick a person into a locked memory, preventing them from ever waking again.
There is a sense of Greek tragedy to “Reminiscence”; it tells the audience up front what to expect. It’s not a spoiler, it’s more of a focal point to lay dormant in the viewer’s mind as everything unfolds before them.