Marjorie Prime

Movie review by
Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media
Marjorie Prime Movie Poster Image
Slow, poetic exploration of memory, loss in sci-fi setting.
  • NR
  • 2017
  • 98 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Family members with complicated pasts cope with end-of-life issues -- and sometimes fail to cope with them. The multilayered portrayals of adults in their 40s-80s remind viewers we should care about people of all ages.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The characters are all flawed people dealing with difficult family circumstances. They come across as well-meaning. Cast isn't especially diverse.

Violence

No violent acts shown on-screen. Discussion of two suicides and the killing of a dog; no graphic detail.

Sex

Discussion of "lovers" and a scene of sensuality between adults about to become engaged. Brief topless moment. A clearly post-sex situation.

Language

Infrequent use of words including "f--k."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Several characters drink; one apparently has a drinking problem. Scene of mildly menacing drunkenness. Two characters smoke, but it's frowned upon.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Marjorie Prime confronts real-world issues of aging and grieving and doesn't offer false hope. Despite its sci-fi concept, its highly intellectual tone and slow pace will probably disqualify it from most kids' must-see lists. That’s not to say the film is grim, though light moments are few and far between. Expect talk of lovers and a scene of sensuality (as well as a brief topless moment), infrequent swearing (including "f--k"), some drinking and smoking, and verbal references to suicide and a dog's death. It's not for everyone, but for sensitive teens starting to grapple with the grown-up ideas the film addresses, it could be a jumping-off point for interesting discussions. Lois SmithGeena DavisTim Robbins, and Jon Hamm co-star.

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What's the story?

In MARJORIE PRIME, Marjorie (Lois Smith), 86, is grappling with dementia. Her loving daughter (Geena Davis) and son-in-law (Tim Robbins) have acquired a companion for her: a "Prime," or a learning-AI hologram, of her long-dead husband, Walter (Jon Hamm), as he was in his 40s. Walter Prime only knows how to "be" Walter based on what the humans tell him from their memories of the man. Over time, other Primes serve other purposes for the family as they cope with issues of aging and loss and explore the nature of memory.

Is it any good?

This is a beautifully crafted film that's simply not for everyone. Marjorie Prime's highly intellectual tone and slow pacing will turn off some viewers, likely including most kids. But for others, especially those confronting these issues in their own lives, it could play poetically. It asks questions about how we remember, how we choose to remember, and where the truth can be found in the realities created by those memories. Davis and Robbins are exceptional. Smith, who played the same role onstage, is wonderfully nuanced.

The play was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2015. The movie won the Sloan Feature Film Prize at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival for its "imaginative and nuanced depiction of the evolving relationship between humans and technology, and its moving dramatization of how intelligent machines can challenge our notions of identity, memory and mortality." Although it reads as hifalutin' at times, the film has strong emotional underpinnings. For those interested in exploring its themes, Marjorie Prime could prove rewarding.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Marjorie's relationship with the AI in Marjorie Prime. What about the other characters, with the other Primes? What do the humans get from these relationships with "fake" versions of humans they knew? How does this tie in to issues of grieving and closure?

  • Several of the characters do iffy things: They lie, explode in frustration, and so on. Are any of them "bad" people? "Good"? Could any be considered role models? Why do you think they're presented this way, instead of being obviously "good" like Captain America or obviously "bad" like most villains you see on-screen?

  • The film raises interesting questions about the nature of memory -- both the individual experience of memory and individual reality. What do you think of what the characters say about what memory really is?

  • Some characters choose to suppress traumatic memories. Do you think this is helpful or harmful?

  • Families can also talk about important end-of-life issues, such as the choices families must make as the end nears, and the importance of comfort for the afflicted.

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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