Director: Michael Almereyda
Screenplay: Michael Almereyda
Starring: Jon Hamm, Geena Davis, Lois Smith, Tim Robbins
Runtime: 98 Minutes
There appear to have been more prominent science-fiction features over the last few years that challenge the endlessly debatable concepts surrounding Artificial Intelligence; from the more bombastic interpretations of Terminator and Transcendence to the muted elegance of Her, Ex Machina and the more recent Blade Runner 2049. The best of them (mostly in the latter category) use the idea as a springboard for discussion regarding humanity, emotion and various other decidedly un-technological aspects.
Marjorie Prime is a story set in the near future following dementia sufferer Marjorie (Lois Smith), who regularly uses a service that provides holographic recreations of deceased loved ones and allows her to come face-to-face with the younger version of her late husband, Walter (Jon Hamm).
It’s an interesting study of the nature of memory as opposed to humanity. It ponders on how well memory can truly hold up in an age of instant access to information, but also reflects on how fragile we are as constructs and finite our impressions on this world can be. Devised as a tool to support mental wellbeing as well as companionship, it echoes the use of therapy in 2012’s excellent Robot & Frank. It’s interesting watching their discussions as Walter Prime’s intellect and character grow and thrive even as Marjorie’s state of mind begins to wander further from her grasp. It builds a character of the long deceased Walter through shared stories and experiences with not only her but her daughter (Geena Davis) and son-in-law (Tim Robbins), even into his darker aspects of personality and the secrets he harboured from her.
While the film is akin to an episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, it feels at times like an extended and bloated instalment that uses the same gradual reveals but lacks the dramatic punch and world-building techniques that keeps that series so stimulating. Michael Almereyda’s direction is underplayed, slow and cut infrequently to keep a focus on the dialogue, but is based on a Pulitzer Prize-nominated play by Jordan Harrison and still feels incredibly stagey and stilted, occasionally even boring to watch.
It’s kept afloat by its ideas, which are plentiful, and the performances. Hamm is unusually stiff and uncharismatic but with good reason, Davis and Robbins are good as the couple whose relationship has clearly stalled in a shadow for unknown reasons in their later years, but Lois Smith is wholly sympathetic and brilliant returning to the role she played on stage.
Marjorie Prime is held back from being great or very memorable by a director who leaves it a little too distanced and cold to really connect with emotionally, even though memory and emotional connections are so intrinsic to its narrative. But the performances are strong – especially from Lois Smith – and it ends on a strange and interesting note of memories becoming echoes in an ongoing chamber that does linger in some ironic form.