Michael Amereyder’s ambitious feature film, Marjorie Prime is based on Jordan Harrison’s play of the same name. In the film Lois Smith plays Marjorie, a role she originally played on stage. Marjorie Prime explores issues around AI and ageing in what could’ve been a really interesting way. Marjorie is an elderly lady living with dementia. Her daughter, (played by Geena Davis), and son-in-law, (played by Tim Robbins), live with her. They also employ a live in carer. The depiction of early dementia is very accurate. Marjorie is confused and occasionally forgetful but still very present and able to interact with her family. Her family have purchased a prime of Marjorie’s late husband Walter, (played by Jon Hamm), to keep the old lady company and ensure her brain is stimulated. The prime is a kind of interactive hologram. It looks exactly like Walter in his forties. It talks to Marjorie, gathering up information and memories so it can gradually become more and more human-like in its interactions with her.
The idea of the prime is really interesting. As Marjorie’s memory fades the information she’s feeding the prime version of Walter is less and less accurate. Her son-in-law also helps to programme the prime with snippets of information he remembers about their relationship. However, in an attempt to protect Marjorie, he censors all the disturbing memories and creates a past for her which never actually existed. I thought this was a fascinating illustration ofhow loved ones often interact with people living with dementia. As memory fades, there is an opportunity to censor, adjust and enhance the stories which are recalled, thereby shaping the person’s sense of reality and ultimately, themselves.
If Amereyder had further explored this idea with Marjorie and her prime, I think this could have been an excellent film. However, I felt it began to lose the thread a little when Marjorie died and her daughter, acquires a Marjorie prime, then the daughter dies, leaving behind a prime for her husband. The final scene shows the three primes talking, sharing a simple story about the family dog which is now so mis-remembered and adjusted, it bears absolutely no similarity to the original anecdote. I’d like to have seen more of the interaction between Marjorie and her prime and perhaps a little more depth to the direction. It feels quite flat in places, a lot like watching a recording of a play. In adapting the stage version for screen, I think Amereyder could have explored a little more of Marjorie’s background and the reality of her past.
Marjorie Prime was directed by Michael Amereyder and released in the UK in October 2017