"Marjorie Prime" (2017)—We Are More Than Memories
+Guest Posts: Movie Wisdom By Guest Writer George Barnett—Issue #12
Image by L.E. Wilson from RedBubble
Marjorie Prime (2017) is a drama written and directed by Michael Almereyda, based on the play by Jordan Harrison, about a family that obtains artificial intelligence holograms to help them cope with the death of loved ones.
Life Lesson: Memory is fragile, but love is felt in the present.
Marjorie Prime (2017) is a beautiful psychological exploration of the interplay between memory and technology. It’s one of the latest entrants in the genre of “near-term” science fiction, in which artists imagine a world with blurred distinctions between humans and machines (other examples include Ghost in the Shell (2017), Ex Machina (2014), Her (2013), I, Robot (2004), A.I. (2001), Blade Runner (1982), etc.) Marjorie Prime punches a more powerful effect by being simple in design and concept.
A woman, brilliantly played by actress Lois Smith, is slowly succumbing to dementia, so her daughter (also brilliantly played by actress Geena Davis) decides to take out a subscription to a Netflix-like service that provides an AI hologram of Marjorie’s deceased husband Walter. The catch is that Walter is young (played by Jon Hamm) and he brings back memories to Marjorie of when she was younger. Rather than reverting to a childish state, as many of us fear from the stories of aging, Marjorie remembers when she was at the same age as this Walter hologram, to the time when she too was “prime.” While watching the film, we lose ourselves in this conceit and feel what Marjorie is feeling. The emotions overwhelm us. Having put us in Marjorie’s situation, the filmmaker, Michael Almereyda, then slowly ages the real Marjorie as she travels down the path of dementia, and we sense what it may be like.
The movie has entered our world just as a multitude of startups are racing around Silicon Valley creating their versions of holographic experiences akin to the “primes” in this film. Facebook has rebranded as Meta, with the aim of drawing us all into an all-digital world called the “metaverse.” Other age-tech or grief-tech firms offer digital avatar software to recreate the experience of interacting with a deceased loved one using machine learning techniques that learn over time. In the movie, the primes call it “getting better” or becoming more human-like. The film even touches on the sensitive topics of how memories fade over time (becoming less reliable), of how humans lie to each other to reduce harm, and of how the primes eventually begin to learn from each other.
As we embrace this new wave of technological innovation, there is much we can understand from artists such as filmmaker Michael Almereyda, who bring to our attention intriguing ideas about how we can cope, in this covid-changed world where memories are wonderful, fragile things and where what you remember from your life will change over time.
Touch has a memory.
I hope you have experienced, or soon will, the feeling of relaxation and joy that comes over the body when you touch someone you love. It’s probably what peace feels like. It’s probably what we all need to feel from time to time in order to be compassionate people.
But life is such that there may come a time when our loved ones are not with us anymore, and when there may not be anyone around who will be able to provide this cascading feeling of security for us. We can hope that somehow someone in the future will come along who will provide that love, but if senior care homes where residents rarely receive any visitors is any indication, it’s best not to count on it.
Here then enter the robots, the artificial intelligence, the toys that may soon be able to provide the comfort and connection we seek. This realm is full of fantastical possibility, and it’s fertile grounds for the creation of works like the play and the futuristic movie, Marjorie Prime (2017), about the use of AI holograms to help families cope with death. What could be more consoling to us than having our loved ones come back from the dead, in their youthful prime, with only the happiest memories to share and reminisce over?
This movie is quiet, introspective, and gentle while adeptly tackling ideas about love, forgiveness, bereavement, memory, and identity. But above all, Marjorie Prime serves as a reminder that life is fragile, nothing is permanent, and yet, quite miraculously, throughout our lives we can love and be loved.
How lucky we are.
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