we can think of it as the emotional singularity: that potential juncture when
our artificial intelligence constructs better understand our inner psyches than
we do. It is possible humanity or at least one family reaches this point in
Michael Almereyda’s adaptation of Jordan Harrison’s play, Marjorie Prime (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
help her deal with the loss of her beloved husband, Marjorie’s daughter Tess
and son-in-law Jon have installed the latest in bereavement technology: an AI hologram
of her late husband. They are somewhat surprised when she opts for the young,
handsome Walter who proposed to her, rather than an older version that would
better match Marjorie in her current advanced years. He is there to comfort her
and remind her of memories that have slipped her increasingly unreliable mind.
However, knowing she will not remember the truth as it happened, Marjorie will
sometimes recommend alterations, to make Walter Prime’s stories better reflect
reality as she would have preferred it.
Marjorie’s health is clearly failing in the first act, Tess is unable to
resolve the issues in their strained relationship before her death. Despite her
skepticism, she too will try achieve some sort of catharsis with the help of
Marjorie Prime. There is a great deal of family history that has been left
unspoken and even deliberately forgotten, but the primes might know more than
the mortals realize.
Marjorie Prime is a film about
artificial intelligence that is deeply humanistic and insightful into the
foibles and weaknesses of humankind. Almereyda embraces the stage roots of his
source material, accentuating the intimacy of the chamber drama. He definitely
opts for a minimalist style, but that actually heightens the elegiac tone (also
thanks to a considerable assist from accomplished indie cinematographer Sean
Smith (who originated the role on stage) anchors the film with a wide-ranging
yet subtle performance as Marjorie/Marjorie Prime. Jon Hamm develops some
intriguing chemistry (if we can really call it that, in this case) with her as
Walter Prime. Azumi Tsutsui is terrific in her brief but pivotal scene as Tess
and Jon’s granddaughter Marjorie. However, the wonderfully sensitive
performances of Geena Davis Tim Robbins as the brittle Tess and achingly
empathetic Jon are what really linger in the viewer’s head after it all wraps
Frankly, there is a lot of provocative
speculation about how AI could alter the human condition that is hidden within
plain sight throughout Prime. It
definitely qualifies as science fiction, even though it is driven as much or
more by its characters than its ideas. Very highly recommended for sf fans and
those who will appreciate it as a richly textured family drama, Marjorie Prime screens again this
morning (1/24) and Saturday (1/28) in Park City, tomorrow (1/25) at Sundance
Resort, and Thursday (1/26) in Salt Lake, as part of this year’s Sundance.
Labels: Artificial intelligence, Michael Almereyda, Sundance '17