Reminiscence Movie Explained: Ending, Myths & Pathos Analyzed

Reminiscence Movie Ending Explained

Reminiscence Movie Ending Explained & Themes Analyzed: Releasing the newest HBO movie Reminiscense simultaneously in the theatres and on HBO Max was a wise choice. While I am not one of those people who are against watching films in a theatre (the way they are supposed to), I am against films that are basically leading you into an idea that it hasn’t fully realized yet.

This is director Lisa Joy’s directorial debut. For the uninitiated, Joy is infamous for the acclaimed HBO show Westworld. Co-creating and leading the writing team for the show for 6 seasons can affirm any viewer of her ability to weave intelligent sci-fi stories with relatable human decay.

In her film Reminiscence, she manages to conjure up an interesting premise. Dealing with memory and its melancholic connection to humans who are lost within a time they don’t understand can really spice things up. To add to that, the film also does a good job at mincing its 90s sci-fi setting with late 40s aesthetic, greatly amped by its exceptional set design. Sadly, everything else is a big letdown. Characters talk to each other with words that feel like sermons and the plot goes nowhere before finally tapping out.

Reminiscence Movie Explained (1) - Mae singing

I don’t mean to sound condescending, but Reminiscence feels like it is trying to do a combined riff on Blade Runner’s noir aesthetics along with the high-concept thrills of a Christopher Nolan movie (it doesn’t help that Nolan happens to be Lisa Joy’s brother-in-law). In doing so, it uses and reuses half-baked ideas to tell a sprawling romance devoid of any chemistry whatsoever.

Anyhow, I’m sure casual viewers would still be amazed by some of the bewildering, memory-churning things that Reminiscence deals with. So, a Reminiscence movie explained article was pretty evident from my end.


Like the Led Zepplin song would go, the levee in Lisa Roy’s dystopian film has already been broken. The not-so-distant future in Reminiscence takes us inside the city of Miami, Florida. Most of it is underwater due to humanity’s distant acknowledgment of climate change and people are forced to live in whatever area of land that they can get. The rest of it is seized by land barons.

Our guide to this world is Nick played by Hugh Jackman. Since this is a world that lives during the night and sleeps during the day due to the extreme heat, people are of course sad about their existence. Nick, helps put a cold compress on these melancholic moments. He makes them forget the present-day and leads them into a past memory that evokes happiness for a short period of time.

Nick is an expert in using the “reminiscence” technology that facilitates people with going back in time. Nick was an army veteran in the past, there are hints of haunting memories that plague him – PTSD, or something else (its never specified what). Since he hasn’t been able to get over the wounds of his life, doing this job, sometimes for absolutely free is his only way to keep himself busy.

Reminiscence Movie Explained (1) - Flooded Miami

Nick isn’t alone though. His army pal Watts (Thandiwe Newton) is also acquainted with the tech and helps him out both on the professional front. However, one fine day, this monotony is broken. On one of the days at work, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) walks into the shop looking for her lost keys. A singer at shady pubs, Mae’s mysterious persona instantly attracts Nick and both of them swiftly fall in love.

With a mismatched time swap, director Joy clues us into the present scenario where Mae has disappeared and Nick is wounded again by the memories they shared together. He is using the technology now to find out the what and why of Mae’s disappearance.

The first of the clues to Mae’s past life come through an investigation Nick is currently working on with the District Attorney’s office (where he works part-time). Watts is also worried that their job will be at a loss since Nick has been consumed with this grief that he can’t put his hand on. To add to that, their regulars like Elsa (Angela Sarafyan) have not been visiting shop to seek memory of her sugar daddy/lover.

Who was Mae in the past?

While investigating one of the cases in the DA’s office. Nick gets clues into Mae’s past life. He gets to know that Mae used to live in New Orleans and was addicted to a special drug named ‘bacca’ that her boss Saint Joe used to sell. She was of course a singer back then too, but since it was an even tougher time where survival of the fittest had to run its course, Mae had to retort to pleasing these rich gangster-like people who had all the money. She was also kind of trapped in this circle of giving and taking with her addiction holding her back. All she could actually do was escape this sorry circle, which she did back in the day.

Mae's Past

However, Nick, who had just uncovered a sort of disappointing secrete about his lover, is impatient to work on any clue possible. Knowing how Mae was in the past, not only becomes an obsession for Nick, but it also drives him into impulsiveness; making him go down to New Orleans.

Why did Mae betray Nick and Steal Elsa’s Memory card?

When in New Orleans, Nick gets in a fight with Saint Joe – the drug peddler who Mae used to work under. While Watts manages to rescue him in what feels like a near-fatal fight sequence, the two of them decide to return back to Miami.

It is then that Watts finally reveals that Mae came to her just the day before she vanished. She tells Nick that she did lie to him but she was pretty honest with her that very day. However, Nick, who is as impulsive as ever, decides to harken back to this moment using Reminiscence; only to find out she tricked Watts to steal her keys so that she can steal one of the memory cards from the vaults.

Since I haven’t mentioned it before, these memories cards are essential commodities that store memories that people might want to revisit through the technology. Soon enough Nick realizes that Elsa’s memory with the older man in it, was about Walter (the now deceased Baron who owned almost everything livable on land).

What was Mae’s plan?

After stumbling onto Elsa’s truth, Nick gets more eagar and angry. Watts and Nick fight over his obsession with knowing the truth; at which point Nick fires her and fumes out of the office. He then heads over to find Elsa, who ends up being dead. Following up on some leads, he realizes that Elsa’s son was kidnapped by a red-headed woman (presumably Mae) and Cyrus – a dirty cop who appeared in multiple memory bits Nick searched.

Reminiscence Movie Explained (1) - Mae's Plan

Nick gets to know about Mae’s plan when he finds himself in a fight with Cyrus. He, however, manages to overpower him and get to his memory. Where he gets to know about Mae’s actual story and her plan. The memory clearly shows how she was coerced by Cyrus to get to Nick. The whole idea of finding out about Nick’s sweet spot and his vulnerability; flirting with him and pretending to fall in love with him, was all part of this plan.

Cyrus just wanted to know where Elsa’s son was so that he could use him as bait to blackmail the baron and his family. However, this setup got more complicated when Mae started falling in love with Nick. The plan was further complicated when the Baron dies unexpectedly and his son Sebastian (who ordered to find out about his half-brother) now asks them to kill things off.

Mae’s conscience doesn’t allow her to partake in this and she rescues the little kid; leaving clues in her memory of his whereabouts. She knew that Nick would somehow find his way and know about the spot she mentioned.

Does Mae die in Reminiscence?

After rescuing the kid and safely reaching him out to a safe-house in the water – a house owned by a lady named Frances who once saved Mae after her escape from the drug world, Mae had to eventually confront Cyrus. At this point, Mae overdoes and jumps out of a window because she doesn’t want to reveal where the kid is to Cyrus.

Through one of the last memories that Nick could find, we get to know that Mae dies in order to save the kid from being killed. Nick then finds one of the most terrifying memories in Cyrus’ brain and amps up the voltage to permanently seal the terror inside him.

Later, he goes to Sebastian and reveals that he knows that he was the one behind the Baron’s death and the reason for Mae’s sacrifice. He also tells him that he has told the police where the kid is and that he should stop hiding behind his mother’s insane state (she also had a memory of the Baron and her happy time permanently sealed) for any do-overs.

Reminiscence Movie Ending Explained: Why is Nick Old?

The ending of the movie Reminiscence supposedly climaxes twice. I will break down the two ways in which the film ends and it’s fairly simple to realize that both of them could have served as an ending but Lisa Joy chooses it to end this way because, well, it’s her choice I guess. It also has to do with one of the sequences within the film that Nick and Mae share.

The Sad Ending: Living with a happy memory

Towards the conclusion of the film, Nick, who has now discovered the truth about the entire conspiracy decides to spend the rest of his time and life within a memory. The melancholy in the ending is quite evident. Even though Watts is now reunited with her daughter, seeing and checking on Nick leaves the viewer with a kind of hopelessness in the world that is to come.

So much so, that a human would simply accept that the world he is living in, is no good and that choosing to stay in the past (that implicates more hurt) is a better option. The ending of Reminiscence shows Nick using one of the memory cards that have happy moments of him being in love with Mae, and setting the machine in a sort of automated mode where his voice (the navigator for the technology supposedly used here) is run on a tape recorder on loop.

We do see Watts checking on him every now and then; the last when both of them are old, and while this is an incredibly poignant moment in the film, Joy cuts with a sleep-induced Nick smiling.

The Happy Ending: A reversal on the tale Of Orpheus

If you are aware of The Legend of Orpheus, you would know that it doesn’t end well. However, Reminscene ends with one of Nick’s memory where Mae asks him to tell her a happy story. Nick tells her that there are no happy stories; to which Mae says that then he should tell a sad story but end it in the middle.

Nick tells her about Orpheus and how he took a trip to Hell in order to find Eurydice after she died. He ends the tale by telling Mae that Orpheus was able to convince Hades to let both of them leave hell; living a life of happily ever after. However, that’s not how the tale ends. It actually has a few more complications.

Hades agrees to let them leave with only one condition: Orpheus has to lead the way out and not look back to see if Eurydice is following him. While Orpheus leaves the hell gate he couldn’t help but look back, only to notice that his wife hasn’t been able to get free just yet and thus dies a second time.

Director Lisa Roy is trying to draw parallels to this Greek myth with Mae and Nick reuniting, yet Nick losing her again to death itself. That said, since Nick promised Mae a happy ending, the film ends somewhere in the middle of all the happening. It leaves us with the happy image of Nick and Mae in love and embracing each other.

Read More: Pig Movie Explained: Ending, themes & Existential dilemmas analyzed

Reminiscence Links – IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
Shikhar Verma

Getting fat with the wife. Absolutely loves the all-consuming, indulgent world of cinema.