Marjorie Prime (2017)

Michael Almereyda’s Marjorie Prime takes us into a future where human holograms help families cope with memories, death and grief.

The Persistence of Memory

by Alexa Dalby

Marjorie Prime

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Lois Smith reprises her role in the original stage play of the same name by Jordan Harrison as Marjorie, an 85-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s. Futuristically, Jon Hamm is a virtual reality replica of her late husband Walter, looking as he did in his prime, a handsome man in his 40s. He’s a hologram known as a ‘Prime’. His/its function is to learn everything he can about Marjorie’s history – in other words, program himself – so that he can be a companion to her and help stimulate her fading memory. In one-to-one conversations with her he jogs her memory by recounting snippets of the past he’s been told, either by Marjorie, when she’s lucid, or by her daughter Tess (Geena Davis) and son-in-law Jon (Tim Robbins), with whom she’s living in a sleek, spacious, architect-designed beach house next to the ocean.

The tone is melancholy, reinforced by atmospheric music by Bryce Dessner. Marjorie was a violinist who had to retire when arthritis crippled her hands, but though she has retained her memory of her love of music, she has to be reminded that she can no longer play. And are the memories she is being fed by the Prime the truth or can they be manipulated – either by herself, when she ‘improves’ a date memory her Prime remembers for her from watching My Best Friend’s Wedding to watching Casablanca or by others? Are the memories that Tess and Jon remember actually Marjorie’s real past or just what they know of it, their version? And is Tess jealous of the Prime’s rapport with her mother?

As the Prime, Hamm’s delivery is correct, unfailingly polite and robotic, but he also appears in flashbacks as the real-life, relaxed Walter. The passing of time in the film is as fluid as memory as it jumps into new episodes from the three protagonists’ lives. Bereavement, grief and how families seek to cope with it as they age is at the heart of the film, together with an overriding sadness. The acting performances are all excellent. However, the film shows its origins as a stage play, scarcely opening out from its single, soulless location. It would seem to remain more suited to the stage and the enlivening chemistry of interaction with a live audience.

Marjorie Prime premiered in the UK at the Sundance London film festival and is released on 11 November 2017 in the UK.

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