“The things you forget,” ruminates Lois Smith’s Marjorie mournfully towards the start of Michael Almereyda’s futuristic contemplation on memory and mortality.
Now in her mid-80s, Marjorie suffers from a vascular form of dementia that causes her to regularly lose touch with the memories of her past. Living with her daughter Tess (Geena Davis), and son-in-law Jon (Tim Robbins), she spends much of her time staring blankly into the distance; a vague, indefinable confusion etched into her eyes – reprising her role as Marjorie, having also starred in Jordan Harrison’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play of the same name, Smith channels the haunting mental ambiguities of dementia with a sad and understated power.
To bring her mother comfort, Tess has been persuaded by her husband to invest in a state-of-the-art computerised hologram (known as a ‘prime’) of Marjorie’s late husband, Walter (Jon Hamm). Walter Prime has been programmed fundamentally to feed Marjorie’s life story back to her, but as his interactions with Marjorie, and with Jon – whom Walter Prime relies on to develop a greater understanding of the deceased Walter’s history – deepen, diverging recounts of painful elements in the family’s past are brought to the fore.
Almereyda, working from a screenplay he adapted himself from Harrison’s stage show, brings a raw sensitivity to the many monologues that populate the script: DP Sean Price Williams’ camera regularly held with a deliberate stillness. Yet his direction appears detached from the film’s quiet tone. Mica Levi’s soaring score, though disconcerting, is notably at odds with the subtleties of the actor’s performances: Hamm’s emotionally robotic constrictions a particularly potent device in the earlier stages.
A sudden narrative shift at the halfway mark also jars significantly, pushing the drama in an uncharted direction that it never manages to find its way back from. And as such, this tender tale is sadly one that’s easily forgotten.