“When you remember something, you remember the memory. You remember the last time you remembered it, not the source, so it’s always getting fuzzier, like a photocopy of a photocopy.”
Marjorie Prime is a slow and thoughtful exploration of human memory through the vehicle of artificial intelligence. Short of fully duplicating a human brain, our ability to create AI representations of real people will always be limited by the memories we are able to supply but — even then — factually accurate memories may not reflect the story that an individual has made their personal history. The initial parallel between Marjorie’s Alzheimer’s and the AI Walter’s incomplete memories emerges through friendly exchanges. The shifting tone to more adversarial dialogue with AI creates a tenser atmosphere reminiscent of Ex Machina. However, Marjorie Prime‘s stage play roots are evident and it is easy to imagine it working better in that medium, notwithstanding some great performances, most notably from Jon Hamm and Tim Robbins. The pacing and deliberately untelegraphed time shifts will be tedious to many viewers, but patience is rewarded with some intriguing ideas and a pleasantly subtle closing scene.
The second of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology, Lovers Rock captures a single night at a West London house party in the 1980s. Although it features the barest bones of a budding romance between two strangers, McQueen’s focus is in distilling the essence of this social experience in what is arguably an hour-long music video. The title refers to a romantic subgenre of reggae that emerged in Britain but is not well-recognised in its birthplace. Its power is evident: sometimes couples are pressed together, barely moving; at others the entire room sways in a rhythmic trance, the joyfully beating heart of an organism. The camera glides deliberately through the house, slipping behind figures and furniture, providing an intimate perspective rather than that of an outside observer. Whenever we return to the living room, we find ourselves in the middle of the dancefloor. The cold blue lighting outside contrasts with the warmth of the phosphorescent yellow inside, an inviting haven away from the threats of violence that briefly emerge. Lovers Rock is an ambitious idea that is well realised, but I wish it had more content. Instead, following Martha as she sneaks back into bed only to be roused immediately by her mother, it is like waking from a dream — enjoyable yet ephemeral.
“These are new men, new types of human beings. These men have perspective. Know particularly that they glory in the struggle. They are not demoralized or defeated or despairing persons. They are leaders, but are rooted deep among those they lead.”
The first of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology, Mangrove is an emotionally powerful courtroom drama chronicling the true story of the Mangrove Nine, falsely charged with riot and affray following a protest. That this powerful indictment of systemic racial injustice should be released in the same year as the Black Lives Matter protests could not be more fitting. A joyous opening celebrates the Mangrove restaurant’s opening, but also Notting Hill’s multiculturalism at large. However, it is swiftly overtaken by brutal police raids, one simple yet haunting shot lingering for a half minute on a spinning colander, forcing the viewer to take in the destruction and pain that lingers long after the police depart. As a whole, the film hits the expected beats for its subject matter but is elevated by its thoughtful artistry. Shaun Parkes and Letitia Wright provide the film’s emotional core as allies but ideoligical adversaries within the black community. Whilst the sneering PC Pulley is an easy caricature, a more telling scene shows his impassive reaction to a black mother’s grief at her finding that her child has been beaten in custody: the man truly believes he is restoring a natural order that is challenged by the black community’s self-sufficiency. The courtroom itself is a microcosm of the wider world, unwilling to acknowledge racial injustice until it is no longer avoidable. When Frank Crichlow is thrown into a jail cell, the camera gazes up at him as he screams in frustration, the image uncomfortably overexposed with blown out highlights mirroring the bursting emotion he can no longer contain. Similarly, the camera remains fixed on Frank’s face as each of the verdicts is announced, rather than passing from one defendant to the next; tracking the continuing range of emotion he experiences after a long-fought battle is far more powerful. And yet, as we are reminded shortly afterward, this was a single battle for justice in an ongoing war.
“I lost track somewhere — what was real, what was performance.”
Jackie is an unusual biopic that seeks to present the woman through a narrow period of just a few weeks, focused almost exclusively on the assassination of JFK and the immediate aftermath, with occasional flashbacks going only so far as her time in the White House. Those hoping for a broader look at her life will be disappointed. Given the private nature of most scenes, it is evident that most of the script is highly speculative which makes it all the stranger that Jackie often struggles to delve beneath its subject’s iconic surface, with emotional resonance coming mostly from Peter Sarsgaard’s portrayal of the supportive, grieving Bobby Kennedy. The film does pose incisive questions about Jackie’s motivations following the assassination: a kind perspective is that she was preserving JFK’s legacy but a less generous one is that, as a student of history, she was seeking to craft that legacy for her husband and for herself. If nothing else she had certainly become a Kennedy.