Director: Michael Almereyda
Starring: Geena Davis, Tim Robbins, Jon Hamm, Lois Smith
If you could have a ‘living’ projection of a loved one to provide companionship after they’re gone, would you?
That’s not the premise or design of Marjorie Prime, but it’s an interesting thought nonetheless. Adapted from the play of the same name, Michael Almereyda delivers a sci-fi movie brimming with a distinct lack of sci-fi. That in itself is a good thing, the movie is set in the near future and underlines the ever-increasing relationship between humans and technology.
There’s no evil robots or cackling corporations, just a soft, sombre outing.
Marjorie (Smith) suffers from dementia that is slowly erasing her memories and personality. To keep her from loneliness and to ensure her memories remain, she has the assistance of a Prime – a holographic projection that takes the form of a deceased family member, in this case, Marjorie’s late husband, Walter (Hamm). She speaks to him about their past and Walter relays information back to her to jog her memory. Prime’s retain and absorb information, as they become more ’human’ in their thoughts by being fed information from family members to ensure they replicate their deceased counterpart as authentically as can be. As the software is customisable, Marjorie has chosen Walter’s image to reflect him in his 40’s which further alienates their daughter Tess (Davis), who already struggles with the notion of a projected parent, as well as her mother’s ailments. Supporting Tess is her husband Jon (Robbins) - he is more open to the idea of Primes and spends a lot of his time feeding Walter the memories he requires. As time goes on, memories are often not what they seem and words never said to the human form must be fed to the A.I. people once knew to be real.
Very much a chamber piece, Marjorie Prime is an immediately theatrical movie - from the framing devices, dialogue-heavy scenes, the ambiguity of time and fade to black transitions akin to a scene change, the movie retains much of what it would deliver on the stage. Set within Marjorie’s contemporary beach house, complete with beautiful ocean views, the story moves around within the house as each scene changes, and only briefly ventures outside of the setting. It’s an examination of the life minutiae we reminisce upon and remould, and the impact we leave on others, as well as the link between humans and technology that’s quickly catching up with us.
There’s no Prometheus-style backstory on the creation of the Primes, no tales gleefully relayed in shiny rooms by sinister beings attempting to out-sinister each other. There’s a distinct lack of effects within the movie, no unnecessary attempt to ram it into our faces that this story is set in the future. It’s nice to have a movie that doesn’t rely on tedious exposition and backstory to sell the future or the advancements made, the script handles it well and subtly. In that sense, it’s closer to Ex Machina in terms of sci-fi cred. Instead, the movie relies on its script and the performances of its actors to sell the narrative and provide a more character-based drama than a true sci-fi model.
With the cast at Almereyda’s disposal, it’s almost a given that the performances would be of a high level and that’s exactly what we get. Lois Smith reprises the role of Marjorie, having previously played her on stage, and provides a performance awash with a blend of joie de vivre, contemplation and panic. It’s a great performance by a seasoned pro. Marjorie Prime also provides a good platform for Davis and Robbins to flex their acting muscles, both delivering expert performances – Davis as the embattled daughter and Robbins as the looser, softer son-in-law. As the gentle, inquisitive and softly soulless Prime, Jon Hamm fits the role perfectly.
Retaining its theatrical DNA, the movie is heavy with dialogue between characters, resulting in long, sometimes drawn out, scenes. At times, it isn’t always completely clear what is happening or where certain beats stemmed from. It’s a slow-burner that requires plenty of patience and concentration (but don’t all movies?). If you prefer more bang for your buck, you may be disappointed with Marjorie Prime. The movie breathes a more philosophical approach as opposed to popular sci-fi, it’s more about impressions than effects and the dichotomy between human and A.I. emotions, including the moral and sensitive issues that do/would/will arise – is there a real issue that the A.I. cannot necessarily feel emotions if it provides friendship and contentment?
Standing out from the more recent big-budget sci-fi flicks, Marjorie Prime is a refreshing deviation from the formula, focusing on the characters and their emotions rather than the backstory. The movie never really gets out of second gear and the dialogue/editing hampers scenes at times, but the movie looks great, is well-acted and has a light, ethereal air hanging over every scene resulting in a gentle, reflective and engaging production.
November 12th 2017