In Theaters

Coping with loss is something that most of us have had to deal with at some point in our lives. This can take a variety of forms, too, from the loss of a loved one to the loss of something we value to even the loss of some part of our own selves. How we handle such situations varies from person to person, depending on our individual circumstances and coping capabilities. Some of us soldier on, getting through the circumstances and moving on with our lives. But others among us may need some assistance in approaching these challenges, especially if they’re associated with strong emotions, a tremendous or unrelenting sense of loss, or unresolved aspects that prevent us from progressing. Such are the questions raised in the haunting new sci-fi drama, “Marjorie Prime” (web site, trailer).

Aging senior Marjorie Lancaster (Lois Smith) suffers from acute dementia. She loses a little bit of herself every day, a painful process for others to witness, such as her daughter, Tess (Geena Davis), and son-in-law, Jon (Tim Robbins). Fortunately, in this society of the near future, technology has been developed to help those like Marjorie whose memories are continually slipping away into the oblivion of the ether.

Aging dementia patient Marjorie Lancaster (Lois Smith, right) routinely reminisces with a computer-generated hologram known as a “prime” that resembles a middle-aged version of her late husband, Walter (Jon Hamm, left), as a means to help strengthen her memory in the inventive new sci-fi drama, “Marjorie Prime.” Photo by Jason Robinette, courtesy of FilmRise.

Computer-generated holograms known as “primes” have been created to assist those afflicted with conditions like Marjorie’s. Primes are highly customizable forms of artificial intelligence that can interact with those to whom they’ve been assigned. They can take on the appearance of the assignee’s choice, assuming the looks, vocal inflections and mannerisms desired. They can even be programmed to simulate loved ones, providing patients with virtual versions of those who are near and dear to them, regardless of whether those whom they’re patterned after are living or dead. In this way, primes can provide a certain degree of comfort and continuity with those whom they’re designed to serve. And, when programmed with input from those familiar with their source individuals, primes can even be imprinted with the memories of their corporeal counterparts.

Primes who possess such qualities can thus carry on relationships with those whom they interact. In Marjorie’s case, she has chosen to become involved with a prime who resembles a middle-aged version of her late husband, Walter (Jon Hamm). He looks like the man she fell in love with and married, and he routinely reminisces with “his” spouse in hopes of stimulating her memory capabilities, a move Marjorie’s health care providers believe will help to slow the progress of her illness. At the same time, Marjorie’s conversations with Walter help to take her mind off of her condition, making her circumstances somewhat easier to cope with.

But primes are capable of doing more than offering comfort to the infirmed. They can be employed to help individuals cope with the loss of loved ones, especially those who have unresolved issues with those who have passed. Interactions with primes under these circumstances can help survivors talk out lingering questions that weren’t addressed before their flesh-and-blood twins died. Primes can even be imbued with qualities that their assignees wish their physical ancestors had possessed, making it possible to attain closure in a way that might not have been possible when dealing with the genuine artifact. Such attributes provide a degree of comfort to the living that might not have been available were it not for the creation of primes in the first place.

Tess (Geena Davis), daughter of an aging dementia patient, struggles to cope with her mother’s failing condition in director Michael Almereryda’s intriguing new release, “Marjorie Prime.” Photo by Jason Robinette, courtesy of FilmRise.

As a result of their development, primes thus bring a whole new meaning to what constitutes sentience, even what it means to be alive. The lines between those possessing intelligence of a natural and an artificial nature become blurred, especially when the differences distinguishing the two become harder to identify. In some ways, this speaks volumes about the capabilities of our technological developments. At the same time, though, it also raises questions about the future of what we consider humanity, issues that we might not be ready to address, no matter how adept the primes are at carrying out their assigned duties. The question then becomes, are we ready for that?

“Marjorie Prime” is a thoughtful, insightful look at coping with grief, promoting healing, reconciling interpersonal discord, preserving memory, growing comfortable with technology, assessing the nature of reality and contemplating the fate of human evolution, all wrapped up in an intimate, beautifully filmed, well-acted, smartly conceived package. Although the script at times doesn’t quite rise up to the level of its narrative and Pulitzer Prize-nominated source material, the film nevertheless touches many bases and gives viewers much to ponder. With an excellent ensemble cast, highlighted by a superb performance by long-underappreciated character actress Lois Smith, this latest production from director Michael Almereyda once again distinguishes the filmmaker as one of today’s most inventive, ambitious and underrated talents in the business. “Marjorie Prime” may be a little difficult to find, playing primarily in theaters specializing in independent cinema, but it’s well worth the search.

Walter (Jon Hamm, right), a computer-generated hologram known as a “prime,” receives background information about the life of the dementia patient he’s assigned to work with from the infirmed’s son-in-law, Jon (Tim Robbins, left), in the haunting new sci-fi drama, “Marjorie Prime.” Photo by Jason Robinette, courtesy of FilmRise.

Who we are and what we become are questions we all wrestle with, sometimes for large expanses of our lives. But, along the way, we’re also left to address a number of considerations that characterize the state of the human experience. How we respond and cope under such circumstances affords us an opportunity to learn valuable life lessons and to contribute to our understanding of the unfolding of the human condition, no matter how our beliefs shape the outcome and what form it ultimately may take. “Marjorie Prime” provides us with an intriguing look at those concerns and how we might learn from them in the formation of our own reality.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

I’m a Crystal Chalice Award Nominee!

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve been nominated in the Writer of the Year category for the Third Annual Crystal Chalice Awards program, sponsored by Project Bring Me 2 Life. The annual art, music and holistic awards program was launched by PBM2L founders Selomon Closson and Shannon Shine to recognize individuals who are doing great things for the world. Further information about the program is available by clicking here.

Winners are determined by the public. To vote, click here.

The awards will be presented in a ceremony October 21 at Mezzos in Cumberland, MD, with dinner at 5 p.m., the awards ceremony at 6 p.m. and a masquerade-themed after-party to follow. You can find more information on the program’s Facebook event page by clicking here. And, for a video sneak peek at the ceremony, click here.

Wish me luck!

The Best of Movies with Meaning – “Shadows of Liberty”

Polls repeatedly show increasing public mistrust of the mainstream media. Many consumers of news and information from electronic, print and Internet sources have expressed growing concern over the reliability of what they’re being told. And, as the DVD documentary “Shadows of Liberty” (web site, trailer)  illustrates, such skepticism is well placed.

This incisive indictment of contemporary American media examines the importance of a free and unfettered press, showing how it played a pivotal role in the country’s formation. It then shows how that long-cherished institution has fundamentally eroded to the point where it has become little more than a shill for corporate and government interests. Director Jean-Philippe Tremblay expertly documents how such developments as the consolidation of media ownership into the hands of a few corporations have turned the press into little more than camouflaged entertainment vehicles and outlets for stories strategically placed by public relations operations.

Tom Paine, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, holds his “Common Sense” pamphlet, one of the most influential publications of the American Revolution and the country’s independence from England. Photo courtesy of shadowsofliberty.org.

Through examinations of such controversial high-profile stories as the mystery of TWA flight 800, Nike’s alleged Vietnamese sweatshops, the Nicaraguan contra crack cocaine trade and the overblown claims of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, the film also shows how the press has massaged coverage of these events (or ignored them altogether) to suit the agendas of corporate or governmental masters. By combining accounts of these incidents with interviews featuring such media and activist luminaries as Dan Rather, Amy Goodman, Daniel Ellsberg, Julian Assange, Bob Baer, Dick Gregory and Roberta Baskin, the film paints a chilling portrait of how the contemporary media functions and why we, as a society seeking to be properly informed, should be justifiably concerned.

Copyright © 2017, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.