New sci-fi movie Reminiscence tells a story of memories lost and relived, starring Hugh Jackman as a man desperately hunting through his own past to find out what might have happened to the missing woman he loved.
Full of twists and turns, the noir-ish mystery thriller ends with some big reveals – but if you’ve seen the film and were a little confused about how it all panned out, never fear. We’ve broken down the main points of the ending below, and the clues that meant we probably should have seen it coming all along.
Warning – spoilers for Reminiscence follow.
First, some background. Reminiscence takes place in a world where climate change and rising sea levels have transformed society, with “border wars” over the remaining land still fresh in the memory and “land barons” holding on to what little dry land is left.
The rest of society is forced to live a damp and semi-nocturnal existence, dodging floodwaters and wading through flooded streets as they live their lives at night to escape the blazing sun. Given this background, it’s no surprise that so many people have taken refuge in the reminiscence technology operated by lead characters Nick (Hugh Jackman) and his colleague Watts (Thandie Newton), which allows them to relive old memories.
OK – background established! The film’s events mainly follow Nick as he tries to track down his lost love Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), who vanished mysteriously without a word leaving him addicted to their memories together. Regularly over the course of the film it’s revealed that a scene we’ve been watching has actually been Nick’s memory of the scene rather than what necessarily happened, with the action punctuated by his sudden awakening inside the machinery.
By the end of the story, the truth is revealed – the son of a land baron (who appeared earlier in the film) hired Mae (via some third parties) to seduce Nick and steal the memories of his client Elsa (Angela Sarafyan), who’d been having an affair with his father (Brett Cullen’s Walter Sylvan). She and corrupt police officer Booth (Cliff Curtis) end up tracking down Elsa and her son, and Booth kills Elsa while Mae turns on him to help her son escape.
Booth later kills Mae, but not before she leaves Nick a message in Booth’s memory (which Nick then “walks” into). She reveals that she did genuinely love him, and tried to get back in touch with him during the events of the film but missed her chance.
Nick takes the evidence of the plot and reveals Walter’s son Sebastian (Mojean Aria) as the mastermind, hoping to avoid sharing his inheritance with his half-brother. He also reveals where the boy has been hiding since Mae saved him – at a white stilt-house in the middle of the water, where Mae had lived for a time before she came to Miami.
The film concludes with Nick permanently putting himself in his memories (partially as a sentence for his actions during the film, which included trapping Booth in a painful memory forever).
It’s then revealed that the entire film has actually been taking place in Nick’s memory decades later (which might mean certain details aren’t exactly how it really happened), with an older Watts arriving to check on her old friend in the memory tank accompanied by her granddaughter (played by Newton’s real-life daughter Nico).
The prominent narration during the film? Actually Nick’s recorded voice “guiding” him through his old memories, a technique we’ve seen him utilise throughout the film. The whole story ends as it began, with Jackman’s opening monologue (where he talks about memory being “a bead on the necklace of time” and so on) beginning all over again as Nick remembers the first day that Mae walked into his business.
There were clues to this ending earlier in the film, both in terms of previous rug-pulls where the action was revealed as a memory, and in a discussion between Mae and Nick where he noted that the only way to tell a story with a happy ending was to stay somewhere in the middle.
Or, to put it another way: “All endings are sad, especially if the story was happy.”
In the end, it seems Nick could only find peace in the present by living in the past. Though why he felt the need to edit months of memories into a pacey movie runtime is his own business.