Marjorie Prime (Almereyda, 2017)

The ending of Marjorie Prime is magnificent. It’s the sneakiest of culminations, summing up everything that comes before it while giving significant payoff to a key “omission.” It’s also a sensational showcase for Lois Smith, Jon Hamm and Geena Davis, who, through the act of mere conversation, execute the tricky ability to bridge the human and the uncanny. Emotion shouldn’t emanate from these characters at this point in the film, and we’re led to believe it won’t. Then it does, in a way that is almost indiscernible—and so its potency is even greater as a result.

How I wish everything that comes before this ending is as strong. This really should have been a slam dunk for Michael Almereyda, considering how intriguing Jordan Harrison’s source material is. A future where holograms can “raise” the dead and provide comfort to the living? I mean, it sounds so feasible a prospect, and thus so ripe for exploration. And, to the film’s credit, the scenario is explored gamely enough. The holograms (or Primes) become more lifelike the more they are fed memories about the people they’re “impersonating,” so it’s interesting to see how memory functions here as both a way into an altogether slippery version of the past, as well as a reminder that looking backwards is not the same as looking forwards. I also like how, as the film goes on, the function of the Primes becomes more suspect, with the implication that they’re psychologically harming the people they’re supposed to be healing.

While it’s one thing to rigorously explore fascinating concepts, it’s another thing to make such exploration formally interesting. This is where the film falters. Its execution is too soporific and on-the-nose, with passages of time signified through heavy-handed fade-outs and expository monologues. The characters are also strangely out of reach, because even though they reveal things about themselves by talking to the Primes, there’s still a sense that they have no function outside of those conversations. This becomes evident when one character commits suicide off-screen, and the action registers strangely because said character’s mental degradation is barely portrayed by the actor. It comes off as a cheap ploy to make the plot fit a specific pattern, and it left a bad taste in my mouth.

The film is saved by the acting (which is largely fantastic), Mica Levi’s haunting score, and the aforementioned ending, which is the only time I feel Marjorie Prime takes the risks it needs to come alive.