Before We Vanish by Justin Stewart Film

Marjorie Prime | Michael Almereyda

August 18, 2017

Sometime in the near future, Tess (Geena Davis) and her husband Jon (Tim Robbins) gift octogenarian widow Marjorie (Lois Smith) an A.I. hologram version of her dead husband, to keep her talking and to fortify her faltering, faulty memory. Marjorie went with the age 40-ish version, who looks like Jon Hamm, but the reasons weren’t entirely cosmetic. The science-fiction premise of both this and the Jordan Harrison play on which it’s based is a departure point for many slow-burn profundities about family dynamics, mortality and, especially, memory, given credence and weight by the four uniformly superb lead performances.

As in the memory plays of Harold Pinter, ever-malleable memory itself becomes weaponized, though Marjorie Prime never becomes sinister or nasty like other recent sci fi-informed films (Ex Machina or Under the Skin). Which isn’t to say it’s at all comfy; its numerous brain-bending twists are disturbing, and at one point Robbins’s Jon throws a glass of whisky into the hologram’s face. (It only splashes the wall behind him, of course.) The always-interesting and restless Michael Almereyda—whose Experimenter also explored fallible human psychology—blocks and breaks up the action cleanly, and Sean Price Williams’s pristine cinematography prevents this remarkable film from ever feeling stagey or theatrical.

Published as part of BAMcinemaFest 2017 | Dispatch 2.