Play-to-screen adaptations have seldom been given an easy ride by critics and audiences alike. It’s clear that managing to keep the same ethos attached to the original source material is near impossible to achieve, but in the case of Marjorie Prime, It suffices to say that none of the usual pitfalls are anywhere to be found. Reprising her role from the play, veteran stage and screen actress Lois Smith is Marjorie, a widowed octogenarian struggling to keep the memories she shared with her departed husband Walter alive. To keep her mind occupied and loneliness at bay, Marjorie’s daughter Tess (Gina Davis) and son in-law Jon (Tim Robbins) offer her the company of a “ Prime”, a computer simulated younger version of her late husband, played with a majestic stillness by Jon Hamm. Having been programmed to interact with Marjorie by learning as much about her past as he can, Walter is able to help her keep those memories alive as her mind is slowly being ravaged by Alzheimer’s disease.
While Tess has some misgivings about the ethics surrounding this practice, Jon believes that Marjorie has benefited greatly from Walter Prime’s company, who seems to have greatly improved her mood. As memories of first dates and beautiful summer holidays are recounted, while traumatic events are shielded from the old woman, the line between real and perceived memory becomes blurred, culminating in some rather confusing conversations between her and her companion.
Harrison and Almereyda cleverly approach the subject of A.I and future technology in a refreshingly sober manner, avoiding the usual tropes relating to “the evils of computer generated intelligence”. Conversations between Tess and Jon are beautifully conveyed through Sean Price Williams’ stunning cinematography, aided by a genuinely innovative score by Mica Levi and a overly philosophising dialogue which is less jarring than you might expect, even if it is more stagey than it needs to be.
Perhaps the most admirable thing about both Almereyda and Harrison, is their unwillingness to simplify or dumb their material down in order to make it more accessible. Marjorie Prime may not be to everyone’s liking and can seem a little too wordy if you are unwilling to jump on board, but the film is nevertheless one of the most uncompromisingly intelligent pieces of filmmaking you are likely to come across this year. With its stellar cast and brilliantly nuanced characters, Marjorie Prime is sure to strike a chord with those willing to give it a chance. Unmissable, sedate and truly innovative.