Reminiscence ending explained: unravelling Hugh Jackman's new movie

·6-min read
Photo credit: Warner Bros.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

It seems Reminiscence has snuck up on us. The film starring Hugh Jackman, Thandiwe Newton and Rebecca Ferguson debuts on HBO Max in the USA and in cinemas to what feels like little fanfare, but the film boasts not only a great cast but a brilliant creative auteur: Westworld co-creator Lisa Joy.

Like Westworld, Reminiscence takes place in a vaguely-near-future world in which technological advancement and societal downfall go hand in hand, linked together by the basest human nature. The film follows an army veteran turned private investigator of sorts, who uses a special machine to trawl through people's memories.

He does everything from allowing people to relive their happiest moments to helping them find their keys. His life is changed when Mae enters, but when she vanishes without a trace he turns his talents to finding her – an obsession develops as he struggles to learn the truth about who she really was.

Photo credit: Warner Bros.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

As we delve into the truth, and what really happened to Mae, Reminiscence spoilers will follow, so here's your warning.

We begin in Miami, Florida which has suffered a natural disaster and is now mostly flooded.

Wealthy people, now known as Barons, have bought up the 'dry land' in the ensuing chaos and built dams to keep themselves free of floods, while the 'sunken coast' and the rest of the city are left to fend for themselves. Unbearable heat has led to a mostly nocturnal population, who make their meagre livings in bars and shops navigated by boats along streets that are now rivers.

Nick (Jackman) and Emily "Watts" Sanders (Newton) run a facility that allows people to relive their memories, called reminiscences (lol), which are displayed (pointlessly, if you ask us) in a 3D computer hologram as the individual relives them, sedated, in a water tank – the science is never explained, really. Sometimes they work for the police, leading depositions into people's memories to help build cases.

Photo credit: Warner Bros.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

The memories, once viewed, are stored on cards that look ridiculously like small, clear, floppy discs (we've come so far... yet, not so far!) and are stored in a padlocked vault. The records, Nick explains, are for everyone's protection: so it's clear there's no hanky-panky on anyone's part.

One day a beautiful woman named Mae arrives to ask them to help find her keys, which they do – but she leaves behind a pair of earrings. Nick tracks her down and they begin a love affair for the ages. However, it soon becomes clear that this love we're watching blossom is actually a memory Nick is reliving.

In the 'present', Mae has vanished and Nick is haunted by her absence. He begins to try and track her down but Watts is worried about him and their struggling business – even their regular Elsa (Angela Sarafyan) hasn't come to relive her memory with her old-man lover.

Photo credit: Warner Bros.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

Not to mention that Walter Sylvan, one of the Barons, whom the District Attorney has been trying unsuccessfully to prosecute, has died, but a judge has ruled that all his land will go to his son Sebastian and his wife Tamara. Nick, of course, doesn't care because all he cares about is finding Mae.

Through the memory hunting, he discovers that she used to be a drug addict living in New Orleans, and he goes there to see if she returned. Instead, he finds a drug dealer named Saint Joe with a chip on his shoulder and they have a near-fatal fight – only for Watts to come to his rescue.

The two return to Miami, but Nick can't let it go, and Watts eventually reveals to him through her memory that the day before she vanished, Mae came to her and they had an honest conversation in which she revealed her past, and Watts likewise revealed she has an estranged daughter. But Mae takes advantage of a moment alone to slip into the vault and steal a memory card.

Photo credit: Warner Bros.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

The stolen card belonged to Elsa, and Nick realises that the man Elsa had been reliving in her memories was none other than the now-deceased Walter. He and Watts argue, and he fires her.

Nick heads to find Elsa, only to discover that she had been murdered and her son had been kidnapped by a beautiful red-headed woman, who he rightly assumes to be Mae. To figure out where Mae went, he finds Cyrus, a dirty cop-turned-henchman who has popped up in various memories.

After a near-fatal fight he kidnaps Cyrus and examines his memories, which reveal the truth. In Cyrus' memory, Mae details her story. She was an addict, and she had been coerced by Cyrus into setting Nick up, in order that they could steal Elsa's memory and find out where she and her son were, by order of Walter.

Photo credit: Warner Bros.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

However, Mae fell in love with Nick. She completed the mission but by then Walter had died and Sebastian wanted his half-brother out of the way, so he ordered both their deaths.

Mae tailed Cyrus to Elsa and rescued her son so he wouldn't be killed. When Cyrus asks where she's taken the boy, she says "You know, I already told you, it's the one place I could think of to feel safe" and we realise that she knows that Nick will eventually find this memory, and it's clear she's talking to him.

She took him to a remote house out on the water where she had once been rescued by the owner, a solitary woman named Frances – a story she'd told to Nick in one moment of vulnerability. She then proceeds to overdose, knowing that the only way to keep the boy safe is to destroy access to her memory, and flings herself out a window.

Photo credit: Warner Bros.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

Nick turns up the voltage on the machine to fry Cyrus' brain, searing this memory into his brain forever. He then heads to Sebastian, where an entire world has been set up to keep Tamara (who has had a memory of her own seared into her brain) from losing her mind, replaying a time when she and Walter were happy.

Nick confronts Sebastian, telling him he knows that it was he who sent Cyrus to kill Elsa and the boy, but that it's too late now – he's already told the police where to find him and he's safe. Nick then goes to the facility where Watts now works (a place that seems to be a cryogenic freezing establishment of some sort) to tell her what has happened.

Photo credit: Warner Bros.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

He reveals he cut a deal with the DA in order to get away with having purposefully fried Cyrus' brains. He imprisons himself in his own memories of this story – narrated film-noir style, which is the same narration the audience hears.

Fast forward many years, and Watts – now a grandmother – is checking on an old Nick, still in the tank, reliving his brief relationship with Mae forever until his death. Despite how confusing it might seem, it's actually a fairly straightforward story about love, money, and revenge.

Reminiscence is out now in UK and US cinemas . In the US, it will also stream on HBO Max.

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