Dir.: Michael Almereyda; Cast: Lois Smith, John Hamm, Geena Davis, Tim Robbins; USA 2016, 99 min.
Director/co-writer Michael Almereyda (Experimenter) adapts Jordan Harrison’s play for the screen in an un-stagey triumph that interweaves Beckett, Sartre and Phil Dicks, exploring themes such as memory, family and death – the latter not only on a personal level, but concerning humanity as a whole: “Computers have all the same in the world”.
Eighty-five year old Marjorie (Smith) is suffering from the onset of Alzheimers, and her loving family, daughter Tess (Davis) and her husband Jon (Robbins) have installed a simulated, personalised digital projection of her dead husband Walter (Hamm) in the futuristic house near the beach. Walter is in his prime, around forty, and received daily tuition by Tess and Jon about Marjorie’s life – the exception being the death of her son. Walter is also instructed to look after Marjorie’s health; he tries to make her eat and drink regularly. But basically, his function is to make Marjorie’s decline more palatable for her. They reminisce over the feel-good features of her youth, such us the crush on a high-ranging French tennis player. And Tess reminds her husband, that the man in question was hardly French, just Canadian, and only an amateur player. But Jon shrugs this off: allowing Marjorie a great deal of slack, and flattery is only a minor sin. The longer the ‘interactions’ go on, the more one suspects, that all participants are holograms – something author and director have clearly intended. Computers may have all the time in the world, but the human race is only too ready to be replaced by them. To start with, they have a much more precise recollection than the human race. What stands for memory, is just the recollection of the original incident, re-memorised and re-told so often that the original event assumes only a random connection to the present.
DoP Sean Williams uses the house in Long Island as a perfect background for the narrative. Peach is the dominating colour, and the functional building is just the perfect showcase for the holograms. Late Schubert strings are just the ideal background for this endgame, where everything is in the past, and the waves of the ocean are much more lasting than humans. It is good to see Geena Davis in a major role again, but Lois Smith is the centre of this “Kammerspiel” which plays as a long good-bye. AS
SUNDANCE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL | 1-4 JUNE 2017