“Marjorie Prime” Peels Back the Emotional Layers of Losing a Loved One


Leave it to Michael Almereyda (Experimenter) to make a science fiction movie that consists of little more than scenes of two characters talking in plushly appointed living rooms. Marjorie Prime, adapted from a play by Jordan Harrison, takes place at an unspecified point in the future, when intelligent holograms of deceased loved ones (known as “Primes”) have emerged as a common method of dealing with grief. The first dialogue scene — set, like much of the movie, in a house on the ocean — positions Marjorie (Lois Smith), who is in her eighties and fighting dementia and arthritis, in conversation with the much-younger-looking Prime (Jon Hamm) of her late husband, Walter. She sits on a sofa, occasionally taking a scoop of peanut butter as she speaks to the Prime of beloved memories (one involves the Nineties Julia Roberts rom-com My Best Friend’s Wedding, which, surprisingly, gets employed as a structural device); the Prime sits, rigidly and firmly, on a couch across from her. Like most of the interactions in the movie — which gradually sneaks forward in time without fanfare and comes to involve Marjorie’s daughter Tess (Geena Davis) and Tess’s husband, Jon (Tim Robbins) — this introductory chat calmly and poignantly peels back emotional layers, dredging up past tragedies and revealing still-present grievances. Almereyda reaches a peak near the end when Tess and a Prime, seated in half-darkness, listen to the Band singing “I Shall Be Released,” Davis’s profound silence — head swaying; eyes open one moment and closed tenderly the next — communicating enormous power in a movie that generally has words to spare.

Marjorie Prime
Directed by Michael Almereyda
Opens August 18, Quad Cinema