Reminiscence: How The Hugh Jackman Sci-Fi Explores the Danger of Nostalgia

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It’s been one of the more below-the-radar films coming from Warner Bros. Pictures this year — and given the secretive talent behind it, that’s hardly a surprise — but Reminiscence is arriving this summer both in theaters and on HBO Max. Now we have the first trailer from this noirish sci-fi thriller starring Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson and Thandiwe Newton.

Set in a future United States ravaged by war and a Miami that’s sinking beneath the rising ocean, Reminiscence casts Jackman as Nick Bannister, who runs a business with his partner Watts (Newton) that allows people to retrieve and fully experience any memories they wish. Bannister’s life is turned upside down by a passionate romance with a mysterious client named Mae (Ferguson). When she disappears, Bannister becomes obsessed with finding out who she was and what’s happened to her.

Reminiscence is written and directed by Lisa Joy, who is best known for co-creating the HBO series Westworld with her husband, writer/producer/director Jonathan Nolan (and yes, Joy’s brother-in-law is Christopher Nolan). Reminiscence is Joy’s debut as a feature film director after helming some episodes of Westworld, and she says in an online press conference unveiling the trailer that the film was inspired by unearthing some past family history as well as the birth of her first child.

“It made me start to think about memory, and our lives in general, and the moments that pass by and maybe disappear,” she explains. “They don’t stay with us, those connections necessarily, but they meant something that changed us and touched us, and how nice it would be to be able to go back to those memories fully for a moment. To live that life and feel the way you felt when you experienced them.”

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The film, she continues, “posits a world in which this technology can help access lost memories and put you back in that moment so you experience them completely fully. The sights, the sounds, the smells. You are back in that moment. Hugh Jackman’s character and Thandiwe Newton’s character have this business, a somewhat struggling business, where they help people retrieve memories for a cost.”

For Jackman, Reminiscence continues the varied range of roles he’s been tackling since he last appeared as Wolverine in 2017’s Logan. “My character is a fairly, I would say, broken man at the beginning,” he remarks during the same online gathering. “Fairly tough exterior but his experiences in the war, on the frontlines, and also as an interrogator has left him really quite broken and really disengaged and distrusting of the world.”

Jackman says that the entrance of Mae into Bannister’s life “changes everything, because he’s not expecting anyone to rock him in any way, particularly in a way that Mae does. He’s just immediately intrigued, drawn in, mesmerized and increasingly becomes, after this relatively short love affair, obsessed with her and needs to really discover what has happened, because he knows in his heart that something bad has happened to her.”

One of the most striking elements of Reminiscence that is glimpsed in the trailer is the setting, a climate change-battered Miami that is gradually succumbing to the rising waters around it. Den of Geek asks Joy how far in the future the movie is set and how important an element climate change is in the film.

“I don’t actually say explicitly what year in the future it is,” she responds. “That was really intentional for me because the future is catching up to us so quickly … I don’t want it to feel like sci-fi set indefinitely far away. I wanted this film at its core to be really relatable and really present and really, in a way, analog. I asked even for the colors in the set design to be warm-hued instead of those cold lights. The future isn’t this distant thing. It’s here, and the things that we do right now form our world so quickly.”

Joy adds that the concept of the waters rising around the southern part of Florida was pretty much ripped from today’s headlines. “If you look at newspapers you see it’s happening,” she explains. “It’s just a scientific fact. I have in the film, as a source of conflict, the disparity of wealth in America. People who don’t have resources are pushed to the borders and left to sink or swim, and the wealthy are able to insulate themselves behind these walls of privilege both physically and emotionally.”

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Although Reminiscence is set in a future that’s both like and unlike our own, Joy says that she’s using genre concepts to explore aspects of the world we live in today. “I think sometimes that science fiction, it has these connotations of futurism and the distant world,” she concludes. “But for me, what science fiction is metaphor. It’s metaphor on a grand scale for the things that we are experiencing in this world … It’s a way of examining the world around us.”

Watch the trailer here…

Reminiscence opens in theaters and premieres on HBO Max on August 20.

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