One of the most shocking parts of Westworld’s first season came when Bernard, played by Jeffrey Wright, discovered that all his memories of his family were false and that he was actually a robotic Host with questionable free will. Reminiscence, the first movie written and directed by Westworld co-showrunner Lisa Joy, plays with memory, too. However, the device that Hugh Jackman’s character Nick Bannister has doesn’t alter his clients’ memories. Instead, it lets them revisit them exactly as they were, taking them back to a happier time before the climate-affected oceans threatened to sink Miami for good. And yet, just because the memories are true doesn’t mean Reminiscence is any less twisty than the HBO series — or that it has less to say about the human condition.
“I think I’ve always been fascinated by memory and the way in which we tend to be narrators, even unreliable narrators, of our own lives,” Joy tells SYFY WIRE ahead of the film’s Aug. 20 release. “We like to think, ‘Oh, this is the chronology of the story of my life.’ We tend to cast ourselves as heroes even if we occasionally stumble in our tale. It made me think about how memory is unreliable. We see it through the fog of time. The stories tend to mutate and become something new.
“When I was contemplating this — and of course that’s part of the Westworld theme, too, how memory can deceive you — I thought, ‘What if we could have an objective memory and really transport ourselves back to moments in time that we miss. What would we learn from them?’” Joy continues. “What would we see? Would we have new ideas for who we were or who the people around us were? That was the intellectual nexus of it.”
Reminiscence takes place in the not-that-distant future, where Jackman’s character makes his living on the edge of one of Miami’s levies. When a mysterious woman enters — and then exits — his life, he goes on a mission to discover what happened to her and learn who she really was. Take away the memory-recalling technology and climate disaster setting and it’s basically a film noir. Those added genres and twists, though, clearly mark Reminiscence as coming from the same mind that made Westworld.
“I was a huge fan of Westworld. I didn’t expect anything less of her when I saw this script,” says Daniel Wu, who plays the crime boss Saint Joe. “It was so intelligently written, the layers and everything."
Joy’s layer writing isn’t the only aspect of Reminiscence that will be familiar to Westworld fans. Thandiwe Newton, who plays Maeve on the show, stars in Reminiscence as Watts, Nick’s friend and assistant. Newton remembers being on the set of Westworld Season 3 and intentionally trying to give Joy some space, as she knew she was trying to both finish the season and prepare for her first feature film.
“I remember going up to her and saying ‘Hey, Lisa,’ and she looked at me and went, ‘Why can’t you play Watts!?’” Newton says. “And I was like, ‘Oh, uh, who’s Watts?’ And she quickly explained.”
Two days later, once she was back in Los Angeles, Newton got the part.
In addition to exploring memory, Reminiscence attempts to speak to our present and future. The movie is set in a future vision of Miami that seems like an even more perilous Venice. Temperatures are so hot that most people sleep during the day and go out at night. It’s an ominous setting, but one that Joy hesitates to call “post-apocalyptic.”
“Apocalyptic seems to connote that the world ends, whereas the interesting thing about humans is that the world can’t end. We can’t let it. We have to have hope and we have to rebuild, and we adjust and somehow adapt to the new circumstances of the world,” Joy explains. “In that world, I like to think that they were able to eke out moments of beauty and meaning, even if it’s just hanging Christmas tree lights across a sunken post.”
“Lisa has a lot to say as a writer/director,” Jackman praises. “There’s elements of the story about inequality. There’s a very briefly mentioned border war that’s been going on for years. There’s a city that is pretty much submerged — and by the way, while we were shooting, there were articles about Miami and predictions of it being two or three feet more underwater in just 20 years’ time. So I don’t think it takes a huge leap of imagination for audiences to believe that things could get so hot during the day that people would live at night, for example.”
Even as Reminiscence is about one man’s journey into a woman’s shadowy past, the movie hints at a looming reality.
“It allows us to go into another world but somehow reminds us of the world we’re living in today,” Jackman says. “And that, of course, is sort of what the story is about — about memory, about living in the past, the future, living in the present. There are so many crossovers between the plot and thematics of the movie.”
Reminiscence premieres on Aug. 20 in theaters and on HBO Max.