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Marjorie Prime

Year: 2017
Production Co: Passage Pictures
Director: Michael Almereyda
Writer: Michael Almereyda
Cast: Lois Smith, Jon Hamm, Geena Davis, Tim Robbins

Elderly Marjorie (Lois Smith) potters around her slightly futuristic beachside home and has a spiky relationship with a handsome, poised younger man in her house, Walter (Jon Hamm) who asks about their relationship and reminds her to eat something.

If you don't already know it from the synopsis, Marjorie is descending into age dementia and Walter is a holographic representation of her deceased husband from a few decades before to keep her company and help her cement what memories she has left by asking her to relate them to him.

Walter Prime has been organised by Marjorie's daughter Tess (Geena Davis) and son in law Jon (Tim Robbins), who soon decide to come and live in the house with her for her safekeeping, trying to navigate the vagaries of their own relationship while Marjorie bristles against the inevitable. Walter Prime is another complicating factor, appearing to and talking to everyone else in the house about the history between Marjorie and the real Walter, taking a kind of child's eye view of their life and learning both dark secrets (the son they lost to suicide) and elements that have anchored them (a beloved family dog).

In a subsequent scene about halfway through, Tess is sitting talking to a much chirpier, more aware and more curious-seeming Marjorie one rainy night over tea, and you realise with a start that Marjorie is now a hologram, the real one apparently having died. It's Jon who recommended Tess get the holographic version of her mother in order to get some stuff off her chest she never got the chance to do with her real mother.

Then, when you're just getting over that rug-pulling moment and Jon and Tess are chatting amiably about a holiday they recently enjoyed, it happens again. Another major character is a bit off and you gasp with shock when it's revealed to be a year later and another main character is now their own holographic image, an estranged family member bought in to meet them because they never got the chance in real life.

Overall the film had some interesting ideas around memory and identity but as soon as it was over I was struck with the sense that there wasn't a lot of point to it. The final scene is of the digital characters we've already met sitting around the house in this gorgeous locale talking about life and love without any flesh and blood humans left. I wondered if the screenplay by writer/director Michael Almereyda was simply talking about how finite life is, and how one day there'll be nothing left of us but all the Internet of Things devices keeping each other company, not needing us. Wall.E as family drama?

It seems more obvious it's about the loss of human connection in the digital age and how we can talk to computer programs more easily than real people, etc, but that's not a terribly new idea and the film seems smarter than that. On the other hand, if it's merely a story with no prophetic subtext it just doesn't go anywhere.

A slow, stately pace doesn't help matters much because even though it sets an effective aesthetic mood (especially with the haunting, moody score by Mica Levi), it gives the film too much room you're expecting to be filled with plot, and there just isn't enough there.

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