Marjorie Prime

 

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A sci-fi element is only an excuse for a memorably subtle view of what it means to be human.

 

 Marjorie Prime

Lois Smith (centre)

 

Although only a limited number of Michael Almereyda’s films have been released here, we have seen enough to recognise him as an idiosyncratic independent filmmaker, albeit one who - in my eyes at least - was unlikely to create a masterpiece. Now, however, he has adapted a stage play by Jordan Harrison and I am delighted (and surprised) to acclaim Marjorie Prime as an off-beat work of the highest distinction.

 

Too unusual to please everybody and likely to disappoint fans of science fiction who seek it out because it is set in the future, Marjorie Prime is a gentle, poetic and often sad piece which provides reflections on memory, old age and human lives in general. It opens with Marjorie, a woman in her eighties played quite wonderfully by Lois Smith in a rare leading role, talking to Walter (John Hamm). He appears to be her spouse but is in fact a prime, that is to say a holograph figure representing her late husband in his younger years. It is the notion that people can choose to live with such representations of the dead, figures reflecting any selected period in the lives of the deceased, that makes Marjorie Prime futuristic. However, this is the only element in the film that truly links with sci-fi.

 

Despite a few flashbacks, it is easy to sense the stage origins of this work, but Almereyda directs it in a way that often features close-ups and thus makes it feel more intimate than theatre. Lois Smith is in fact reprising her stage role, but the other players - Geena Davis as Marjorie’s daughter, Tim Robbins as her son-in-law, Stephanie Andujar as a carer and Hamm himself - are all new to this work. They make a perfect cast and the film develops in unexpected ways over a period of time. Thus it is that eventually Walter is not the only prime. The fact that primes need to be informed in detail about the persons that they represent leads to revelations of a family history in which a tragic event has never been fully confronted. Memory and its evasions have played a key part in this.

 

The family portrait that eventually emerges covers three generations and is presented in a way that quite exceptionally refuses to indulge in the slightest sentimentality even though the material might seem to lend itself to that. Despite the fact that the sci-fi tag is largely misleading, Marjorie Prime does have kinship with the sensitivity displayed recently in Blade Runner 2049 when that film showed replicants envying those who possess human feelings. Ultimately there is in Marjorie Prime a scene with no less than three primes present. At this point the film becomes a touching expression of the fact that, since human life involves pain as well as love, it can only be lived to the fullest if the pain is acknowledged and accepted. This is a film of unusual sensitivity and depth.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Jon Hamm, Geena Davis, Lois Smith, Tim Robbins, Stephanie Andujar, Hana May Colley, Hannah Gross, India Kotis, Leslie Lyles, Cashus Muse, Azumi Tsutsui, W.A. Walters.

 

Dir Michael Almereyda, Pro Michael Almereyda and Uri Singer, Screenplay Michael Almereyda, from the play by Jordan Harrison, Ph Sean Williams, Pro Des Javiera Varas, Ed Kathryn J. Schubert, Music Mica Levi, Costumes Kama K. Royz.

 

Passage Pictures-Bulldog Film Distribution.
99 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: 10 November 2017. Cert. 12A.