Movies

Hugh Jackman’s Inception-Like New Movie Reminiscence, Explained

How do you investigate a memory? What’s the twist? And what’s up with all those underwater buildings?

Hugh Jackman, seen shirtless from the shoulders up, lies in a pool of water with nodes attached to his head.
Hugh Jackman in Reminiscence. Warner Bros. Pictures

The logline for Reminiscence, the new HBO Max movie starring Hugh Jackman as a man capable of going into other people’s memories, seems to suggest an Inception Lite. So does its pedigree: It’s written and directed by Lisa Joy, who co-created Westworld (another notably cerebral work) with Jonathan Nolan, brother of Inception director Christopher Nolan. But does the movie live up to that brainy ideal? Is there a twist? And who is doing all this reminiscing? We answer all your questions below. Spoilers follow.

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So Hugh Jackman can go into people’s memories?

Hugh Jackman the real person cannot (or maybe he can and we just don’t know about it), but the character he plays, Nick Bannister, is a private investigator whose main ingredient for success is a machine that project a person’s memories for onlookers to examine. Most of the time, he serves as a sort of guide, asking questions to the person in the machine so they’ll show him the right, relevant memories.

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How does the machine work, exactly?

A person goes in a tank, puts on a little headset, and goes to sleep while someone outside of the tank, usually Hugh Jackman, leads them through their memories like a guided meditation. If you’re asking me literally how to build a machine that will help you investigate other people’s memories, I hate to inform you that this movie is a work of fiction.

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You described this as Inception Lite. Does he have to plant a memory or something?

Not quite—but he does have to find his old flame Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), who disappeared a few years ago. She resurfaces in someone else’s memory.

Is she a projection, like Marion Cotillard in Inception?

Only when she’s being remembered by the person using the machine. Otherwise she’s a normal person.

Is she somebody’s dead wife, like Marion Cotillard in Inception and women in many of Christopher Nolan’s other movies?

She isn’t, at least initially.

What about all the weird buildings I saw in the trailer, that were like, in the water?

The movie takes place in a future where sea levels have risen to a point where some parts of the world—including Miami, where Reminiscence is set—are underwater.

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It’s not a dream world?

No. Nick also never really goes “into” memories. The machine projects them like holograms that he can walk around in, but they’re not tangible settings.

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Well, fine. What about the ending? Is there a big twist?

More like a little one. Reminiscence is partially sci-fi, there’s no question about that, but plot-wise, it’s more of a straightforward mystery or noir.

So what happens?

Nick’s quest to find out what happened to Mae and who she really was initially leads him to believe that she never loved him. He discovers that she was a drug addict and mixed up in some local mobsters and corrupt cops. Mae manipulated Nick into falling in love with her so that those bad guys could steal a file from him and use it to kill a local land baron’s mistress and son.

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What’s so important about them?

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The son was set to inherit a part of his father’s fortune upon his imminent passing (he’s shown to be ill) and the land baron’s other son didn’t want his father’s mistress or his half-brother taking anything from him.

And then what?

This is where the “twist” kicks in—it turns out that Mae had a change of heart and saved the boy. She attempts to get Nick’s help in setting things right, but is kidnapped before she can do so.

So the twist is that he thinks she’s bad but actually she’s good?

Pretty much. Unfortunately, they’re robbed of a real reunion, but she gives a speech to her kidnapper that’s meant for him in which she tells him she loves him, knowing that he will probably find the memory later. She then kills herself so her kidnapper won’t find out where she’s hidden the boy.

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OK, so she’s nobody’s dead wife but she is somebody’s dead love interest.

Eventually, yes.

Then what? Does Nick find the boy?

He finds the boy and saves the day, but he is also so furious with the kidnapper that he fries his brain in the memories machine, and goes to jail for it. Oh, and he finally tells Watts (Thandiwe Newton), his former assistant, that he appreciates her.

There’s nothing else?

Nope! Which is a pity, because the water-city setting is really cool. The movie just doesn’t really do anything with it besides having Hugh Jackman take a water taxi everywhere.

And you’re sure they don’t go into anybody’s mind while they’re sleeping?

I’m sure.

This is kind of a letdown.

You’re telling me!

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