By the year 2060, experts believe that over 94 million Americans will be over the age of 65. To put that in context, there are currently around 56 million Americans that age. This significant growth in the elderly population will undoubtedly bring new challenges: who will care for these people?
The 2017 movie Marjorie Prime, which can be seen on Amazon Prime, offers a dual solution: robots, but also each other. But even the efforts of man and machine alike, the movie suggests will struggle with the complexity of human memory.
Marjorie Prime is an adaptation of a play from the same name, and it certainly feels like one. It has sparse settings and is mostly extended conversations between two people without any background music. It’s certainly not the first movie to wonder where robots and artificial intelligence will fit into eldercare — Robot and Frank offered a compassionate and funny look at the process that made a difference in how people view artificial helpers.
But where Robot and Frank offered some comic relief and excitement by turning into a heist movie, Marjorie Prime doubles down on its themes of loss and memory. While confusing at times, the movie’s last astonishing conversation makes the journey absolutely worth it.
At the core of Marjorie Prime are its two stars. Lois Smith reprises her role from the play as Marjorie, an elderly woman beginning to feel the effects of Alzheimer's. Jon Hamm plays various versions of her last husband Walter. At the beginning of the movie, the audience is introduced to Hamm as Walter Prime, a holographic artificial intelligence meant to care for her. Walter Prime, like real artificial intelligence, is constantly learning more about his role, in this case, the life of the actual Walter, in order to better help Marjorie.
She encourages him to start falsifying their memories in order to sound more romantic. Nothing drastic at first, like changing the movie-date where Walter originally proposed from My Best Friend’s Wedding to Casablanca. But there’s something hidden at the core of these memories, something Walter Prime wants to investigate. That leads him to question Marjorie’s son-in-law Jon, played by Tim Robbins. This all starts to aggravate Marjorie’s daughter, Tess, who wonders why the past is constantly changing around her.
Marjorie Prime shares elements of the Spielberg-Kubrick mash-up A.I. Artificial Intelligence, with artificial intelligence struggling to understand the complexity of humans around them. But there’s also an unexpected influence — the 1980 Robert Redford drama Ordinary People. At the core of Redford’s movie, a deadly boating accident haunts a family that is attempting to lead a perfect suburban life. In Marjorie Prime, as time passes on and family members die, the characters seek to recreate their lives by buying more Primes, altering more memories, creating versions of their family in their own image.
If you were intrigued by the elements of grief and loss presented in WandaVision, then Marjorie Prime is worth your time. It’s a bit like the “Ship of Theseus” scene if it took place in a minimalist beach house and there was absolutely no fighting. But the screenplay, adapted by director Michael Almereyda for the screen, is a technical marvel on-par with any special effects. The last scene, the culmination of a slowly building arc as the Primes start to consider their own memories, is a powerhouse commentary on the nature of memory. Marjorie Prime starts simply and lets the complications of life fold it into something incredible.
Marjorie Prime is streaming on Amazon Prime in the U.S.