Film Review: Reminiscence
Does Hugh Jackman’s latest movie pass the Climate Test?
Reminiscence (2021) is a new sci-fi film produced by Jonathan Nolan and written by Lisa Joy in what is also her feature directorial debut. Set in a near-future Miami that has been inundated by the rising sea — and where daytime temperatures have risen so high that human activity has become nocturnal — the story revolves around a memory-retriever (played by Hugh Jackman) who helps his clients to escape the miseries of the present and to relive the best moments of their pasts. It’s no surprise, then, that the movie has been touted by some as the newest big thing in cinematic cli-fi (climate fiction).
But does it pass the Climate Test? For those unfamiliar with this new measure of climate representation in fiction, you can get up to speed on the three rules of the Climate Test in our previous Medium article here.
Rule One: Does it acknowledge that the Earth’s climate is changing?
Yes! As mentioned above, the film is an exercise in near-future world-building, extrapolating on present-day climate impacts like rising temperatures and sea levels. The flooded streets of Miami, replete with gondolas, are transformed into the canals of Venice, Italy. The attention to background detail is at times a wonder to behold, affording glimpses of haunting beauty in a society passing through its twilight era. It’s also a world of damaged people including military veterans who fought in a ‘Border War’ — a nod to the growing resource scarcity and climate refugees of reality.
Rule Two: Does it portray unchecked business-as-usual as the cause of climate change and as a negative character trait?
No. The spectacular world-building described above is, unfortunately, as far as the film goes toward addressing the climate crisis. The story itself is one of lost love with elements of a noirish whodunnit, focusing on Jackman’s protagonist as he searches for missing persons and the truth about the woman he loved. This means that climate change is merely a backdrop for the film’s more conventional villains and concerns, which sadly puts the film in a similar category as movies like Waterworld (1995) and Mad Max: Fury Road (2015).
Rule Three: Does at least one character do something at least once to help solve the climate crisis?
Again, no. While the climate-ravaged world of the characters features heavily in their psyches in some way, the climate crisis itself is barely an afterthought in their conscious motivations and actions. The hero, in particular, seems to have largely accepted the state of the world and simply goes about his own personal ends in this world. The only problem he tries to solve is, as discussed above, the truth and whereabouts of a former flame — a quest bordering on obsession. His final decision to step out of reality forever is only symbolic of this problematically self-centered mindset.
What does this mean for Reminiscence? Not passing all three rules of our Climate Test — and passing only one of them for that matter — means that the film doesn’t make the cut as an ‘effective’ climate story. Here, we define an effective work of cli-fi as a story that makes a constructive and meaningful contribution to the cultural conversation around climate change. Despite all the detailed world-building, the movie ultimately accomplishes nothing new on the climate front and, instead, risks perpetuating the stale and potentially harmful narrative of ‘doom and gloom’.
If you’d like to see Hollywood make films with more effective climate stories, please consider supporting our Hollywood climate storytelling campaign. In collaboration with the Fridays For Future youth climate movement begun by Greta Thunberg, we’re calling on the major film studios to take a stance on climate change by committing to more, and better, climate stories. You can find out more on our Action Network page: