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(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for a poem that plays with voice and the first-person “I.” Based on this film’s premise, below is a soliloquy of a ghost addressing his former living self.)


I don’t know
If I’m still you,
The same as you once were.
What you went through,
What I’ve been through
Has left my mind unsure.

I can tell
From those you knew
That I was well thought of,
And if I’m you,
The former you,
I too return their love.

You might ask
Why would I stay
When you, alas, could not.
To your dismay,
I came one day
To take your vacant slot.

I suppose
I’m still part of
This world and wish relief
For those you loved.
For those I love
Should not be left in grief.

MPAA rating: PG-13

It may seem that I complain a lot about how slow artsy films can be, so eager to be avant-garde and critically studied that they forget to entertain. Yet Marjorie Prime is proof that I can still appreciate a slow and quiet movie with the right combination of acting and script. This is a prime example (get it?) of a Triple A movie (where it’s All About the Acting) and of low-key speculative fiction; there are no jaw-dropping effects or mind-bending visuals, just three or four people talking in a room and providing a very plausible vision of the future.

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At home at her seaside beach house, Marjorie (Lois Smith, who I know best as Helen Hunt’s aunt in Twister) is an elderly widow around the year 2050, who comes out to her living room to have a conversation with her husband Walter (Jon Hamm). However, he’s not her husband but a Prime of him, a holographic re-creation of Walter in his forties, designed to keep her company and help cope with her worsening Alzheimer’s. Both Marjorie and her son-in-law Jon (Tim Robbins) tell Walter Prime about the Walter they knew, and their memories help form his personality. “I’ll remember that now,” he says with every new piece of information. As you might expect, the idea of Primes doesn’t please everyone, specifically Marjorie’s anxious daughter Tess (Geena Davis), yet the realism grows with time, especially with the way Walter Prime assimilates and repeats the stories he’s been told. When he tells Marjorie of things she has since forgotten, who’s to say it’s not as genuine as the original memory?

Based on a Pulitzer-nominated play by Jordan Harrison, Marjorie Prime is full of moving subtlety in the areas of technology and memory, with a script worthy of an Oscar nomination, in my opinion. Those with little patience will likely be bored to tears, but if your mind is engaged, there’s plenty of existential meat to chew here, from the hidden family tragedy of Marjorie’s past to the way technology is depicted as neither good nor bad but simply an inevitability. In a world where people are already inviting primitive A.I.’s into their homes, it’s oddly conceivable to envision such artificial companions cushioned in the guise of a loved one. Whether that excites or disturbs you may vary, but the film is sensitive and honest in that regard and quite credible too in the way Primes are shown to develop with more information, serving as both a comfort and a painful reminder. I also liked smaller examples of their use, such as enabling future generations to “meet” their ancestors, or at least an indistinguishably close approximation of them.

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The film does morph a bit from its starting point, tragically so in fact, yet there are three phenomenal performances at its heart. Lois Smith, Tim Robbins, and Geena Davis prove what outstanding actors they are, and I’m glad Smith in particular was able to step out from her usual side roles to portray the title character, reprising her role from the stage version. Memory and unspoken emotion hang over every conversation with a Prime, making them lump-in-throat encounters that stayed with me long after the credits had rolled. Perhaps the setting can get monotonous and the artsiness of a few interim scenes drags a bit, but the familial anguish and philosophical questions posed were both restrained and deeply compelling. This is the quiet side of science fiction, but for me, it’s one more reason to love the genre.

Best line: (Marjorie) “Well, the future will be here soon enough. You might as well be friendly with it.”


Rank: List Runner-Up


© 2018 S.G. Liput
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