Thursday, 21 December 2017

Cinema Scent: Marjorie Prime (dir. Michael Almereyda; 2017)


A part of me wants to say that the makers of Marjorie Prime missed a trick, but I realise that would just be a case of giving into churlishness. Because even though it doesn’t engage with the olfactory world as fully as it could have - given its story - the film is a praiseworthy achievement, deserving of much more publicity than it seems to be getting at the moment.

That said, it doesn’t avoid smells altogether. Indeed, it opens with a tight shot of the sea - waves tumbling, undulating, speckled with champagne bubbles of light - which is always a surefire way of evoking thoughts of bracing, ozonic air, of a wind that blows away the vestiges of everything in its path. And that’s entirely appropriate, because Marjorie Prime is about memory. Set in a near future where people suffering bereavement develop what are supposed to be therapeutic relationships with AI holograms of their lost ones, the film rigorously delves into that curious, ill-defined territory where one version of events differs from someone else’s, which in turn casts a subtly different shadow on another party’s perception of a person, which consequently leads to half-truths and misunderstandings colouring years and years of tricky interaction. In short: the stuff of messy family drama.

This is precisely why smell would have been a wonderful metaphor here. The connection between scent and memory may be overplayed by enthusiastic marketeers, but there is no doubt that a connection does exist. Many of our most important life experiences often possess an olfactory dimension and I dare say Almereyda and his team could have exploited this to suit their thematic purposes. Then again, perhaps they made a conscious decision not to. There is a sub-zero detachment to the movie’s tone which might have made sensory references incongruous. Like the coolness of 2001: A Space Odyssey, it is a quality which renders the whole much more profound and human. So perhaps the makers were right to avoid smells and make a virtue of the piece’s suitably android-like theatricality (it was originally written for the stage, but for once, this isn’t a drawback). The lack of odorous memories notwithstanding, they’ve certainly succeeded in putting together one of the most thought-provoking and forward-looking scifi creations of recent years.

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[Sadly, Marjorie Prime isn’t being distributed on a large scale at the moment. No cinemas near me are showing it, so I had to resort to an iTunes rental. I understand it isn’t going to be available in this format for very long.]

For more Cinema Scent reviews, please click here.

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