Marjorie Prime (2017)
Based on an acclaimed play by Jordan Harrison “Marjorie Prime”, the film of the same name is a science-fiction/drama film directed by Michael Almereyda (“Experimenter” (2015) and starring Lois Smith, Jon Hamm, Geena Davis and Tim Robbins. It tells of a woman in her 80s, Marjorie, who spends her time with a programme which simulates the younger version of her late husband, Walter. Marjorie’s immediate family at first becomes concerned about her close interactions with such a true-to-life replica of Marjorie’s late husband, but they all soon too succumb to the charms of the new technology. Despite the fascinating premise of the film, and a wide range of thought-provoking questions it raises, the film fails to live up to any expectations. This is probably the instance where a material is best to be enjoyed as a play only, because, as a film, it is both dragging and far from being compelling.
“Marjorie Prime” first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival 2017, and now enjoys quite an acclaim among critics. It is without a doubt that the film raises all kinds of fascinating questions, exploring such concepts as the nature of human relationship with new technologies; the meaning of human memories; the fallibility of memories; grief; loneliness; and ageing. Throughout the film, Marjorie (Smith), as well as other characters, look back on their own lives and re-consider the most interesting aspects of it. They try to piece together their own memories of what happened before as they instruct the programme which simulates Walter on Walter’s real personality, habits, likes/dislikes and his relationship with everyone else in the family. Through such one-to-one dialogues with the programme, the audience slowly uncovers traumatic family secrets and gets to know the true nature of the relationships between the family members. For example, it becomes clear that Marjorie does not get on very well with her own daughter Tess (Davis), and Tess’s husband John (Robbins) also had a trying relationship with Walter (when real Water was still alive). The film ensures that there are plenty of extremely slow-moving moments in the film so that the audience really starts to ponder on the possible meaning of life in future, where there will be an abundance of new technologies simulating real life, and on the fragility of memory when people age.
However, whether the audience will really care about all that that “Marjorie Prime” suggests is another matter entirely. The major problem here is that, despite such a fascinating concept with the hologram of a person at the centre of it, the whole film premise starts to wear itself out not long after the film’s beginning. The seemingly endless conversations between family members and the programme, which range from philosophy and music to the family’s favourite dogs and past love affairs, start to be plainly boring (for the lack of a better word), and the film manages to culminate on a strange, unsatisfying note. The film also feels quite incoherent as a whole, despite the fact that its premise should remain enigmatic on purpose. The talking scenes start, continue for some time on almost unrelated topics, and then fade away for apparently no reason for new scenes to begin, like fading memories themselves. The audience will not even recall exactly their precise nature. The behaviour of the characters themselves is frustrating to watch. The real people try their hardest in almost every scene to educate the programme to be more human, but, then, they also have random fits of anger which sit neither here nor there, and, seemingly, are just there to fuel the non-existent-otherwise drama. For example, when Davis’s character confronts her mother with the Bible or when Robbins’s character get tipsy and starts to behave aggressively towards the programme.
It is not that “Marjorie Prime” is without twists, and there are, in fact, surprises in the second half of the film, but will the audience really have the patience to sit that long, through the endless dialogues on the particularities of one family? Even when the so-called “surprises” do come, they do not feel too surprising, and even the concept of a hologram person in a room, unfortunately, does not produce the same “wow” effect anymore (as it may produce before), especially for those who have been through both “Her” (2013) and “Blade Runner 2049” (2017).
It even becomes unclear what novelty can a film perspective really bring to the source material here. The film feels very theatrical: most of it takes place in one particular room only and the film relies heavily on the acting/presence of its stars. The wooden setting of the main room in the film appears apparently futuristic enough, since the room is full of strange angles, and the film also tries to highlight human loneliness by showing a deserted beach and other natural phenomenon, such as hard rain, for example. However, that is where, more or less, a cinematic take on the play exhausts itself.
The film is also carried through on a determined and excellent play of its cast. For example, Jon Hamm really does look like an automaton or a person from another Earth, with his straight, rigid posture, inquisitive glances and perplexing facing expressions, as though he really does not know how real humans are supposed to behave in certain situations.
“Marjorie Prime”’s premise is hard to beat when it comes to the fascinating subject matter: there, a family living around the year 2050 is trying to come to terms with their own inter-relationships and the past by employing the service of a programme which could provide an exact psychological and physiological replica of their past family members. However, the film never, even for an instance, forgets its roots in a play, and its scene-after-scene filled dialogues feel a bit dragging at best, and downright boring at worst. The compelling nature of this cinematic take on a play is completely lost somewhere between the film’s musical score and its debates on a best dog breed, and, by the end, “Marjorie Prime” will paradoxically feel like a fading memory itself, with only an aftertaste of something unearthly, technological and futuristic lingering behind. 5/10