Marjorie Prime Review: Death Becomes Her

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To land in the science fiction genre, a story doesn’t need flashy special effects or complex Maguffins. Sometimes all it needs is to be bold. Marjorie Prime very quietly challenges the purpose of death, using technology as a vessel to show the potential rewards and dangers of death that is only permanent for the person who dies. Borrowing more than a little from Charlie Booker’s Black Mirror, the film takes place in a future where holographic versions of people linger on after they die, with their loved ones left behind to deliver the right information to make them feel as authentic as possible.

Initially, this is the story of Marjorie (Lois Smith) and her widow, Walter (Jon Hamm), recreated as his younger self as they navigate her lapses in memory late in life. He reminds her to eat, tells her stories from her past, and all around keeps a lonely old woman company. This portion of the film gives this technology a few minor errors that, over the course of the film, snowball into something potentially dangerous to the living.

The story also follows Marjorie’s daughter (Geena Davis) and her husband (Tim Robbins), as they manipulate this version of Walter in a way that inauthenticates him but helps their own path. Throughout, we see these people have to explain to a hologram all their biased opinions about the person they’re trying to recreate. Us technophobes in the audience know that these manifestations of the person can only go so far with the limited resources of one or several people’s impression of a person. But in many cases, it feels too real for those involved, as they project their own flaws onto people who might’ve brought attention to them while alive.

The script, written by Michael Almereyda, who also undertook director duties, can be a little forceful with its emotions, particularly in scenes involving Davis and Robbins. Marjorie Prime‘s melodrama sometimes weighs down its thoughtful meditation on the nature of memory and the impact of a life. As does it’s ending, which leaves the film on a confusing note about what the film wants to say about death and it’s permanence.

But the film is still undeniably engaging and thought-provoking, despite being too forward about the latter. Marjorie Prime isn’t a film that’ll change the sci-fi game, but it’s a nice reprieve of genre fare that leans too heavily on action and special effects, and a dutiful reminder that sci-fi is often most effective when it sends your brain into a moral and philosophical tizzy, rather than sense of awe. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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