Everything You Need To Know About 'Reminiscence': Hugh Jackman, Director Lisa Joy, And More Pull Back The Curtain On Their Sci-Fi Noir

Since its premiere, HBO's Westworld inspired its audience to become internet detectives, lighting up Reddit boards and social media with theories as they tried to solve the mysteries co-creator Lisa Joy helped concoct. Joy knows that viewers will want to get ahead of a mystery any time one is at the heart of a story. In her first feature film, the science fiction mystery film Reminiscence, hints about the plot can be found in the movie's score, which is composed by Westworld's Ramin Djawadi.

The music is "incredibly important," Joy explained during a press event yesterday ahead of the debut of the film's first trailer. Each of the film's main characters has a theme, and if you listen closely, there are clues in the score to help guide you to what's really going on in this obsessive mystery tale.

We learned a lot more about Reminiscence from Joy and stars Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton, and Daniel Wu. Here's what you need to know.

A House and a Name

Reminiscence came about at an "interesting crossroads" in Joy's life. At her grandparents' home in the English countryside, there was a plaque on the stone house "announcing the name of the home, as if it were some kind of grand manor," which she had been curious about since her childhood. In the wake of her grandfather's death, she visited his home and among his belongings she stumbled across a photo of a beautiful woman with a name inscribed on the back – the same name that was on the plaque. The realization that her grandfather had this relationship that meant so much to him that he named his house after this woman but never spoke of her to the rest of his family made Joy "start to think about memory and our lives in general, and the moments that pass by and maybe disappear," and "how nice it would be to be able to go back to those memories fully for a moment."

A Wholly New Sci-fi World

Wrapping that core idea in trappings of action, thriller, noir, and science fiction, Joy came up with the idea for Reminiscence, which is set in the near future in a half-flooded Miami. The water has risen and there are walls in place to block more from encroaching onto what's left. The story takes place in the aftermath of a war, and there's an international community of people left within the city's borders, disassociated from their past. Because it's so hot during the day, all of the daylight hours have turned into siestas, and the city is now nocturnal.

During the war, technology was developed to interrogate enemies – technology that allowed people to fully relive their memories. Nick Bannister (Jackman) was an interrogator during the conflict, but now uses that technology to help people access lost memories or relive their favorites in a world that relies on nostalgia to help them get through the misery of each day. Bannister, whom Jackman refers to as "a fairly broken man" when we first meet him, runs a struggling business with his pal Watts (Thandiwe Newton), described by Joy as "the toughest lady there was" and a soulful, stoic friend to the protagonist.

Future Noir

One day, a mysterious woman named Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) walks into their office looking for a set of keys, and a torrid love affair sparks between Nick and Mae. "He's not expecting anyone to rock him" the way Mae does, Jackman said, pointing out that his character falls for her – hard. But soon into this whirlwind romance, Mae disappears and Nick becomes obsessed with finding her. Joy said Nick goes into "a very dark world where he tries to investigate what happened to her, who she really was, and what she really wanted."

That aspect sounds like – well, it sounds like a lot of movies, but the first recent film that came to mind was David Robert Mitchell's Under the Silver Lake, which starred Andrew Garfield as a loser who becomes obsessed with a missing girl. "As [Nick] goes down into this dark path of the underworld," Jackman said, "he's constantly getting fed information that should make him doubt, but he's so sure in his gut that their love was real."

A Mysterious Cast

As for the Mae character, she's something of a cypher in the movie. "One of the first things we talked about was questioning your persona: the whole idea of who we really are," Ferguson explained of her early meetings with Joy about the role. Notions of perception and identity were paramount to unlocking her depiction of Mae. "We are seeing this character build through the eyes of really every other character but herself, and I found that really challenging."

On Nick's quest to find Mae, he encounters St. Joe (Daniel Wu), a Chinese-American kingpin living in New Orleans. Wu says it will probably be the first time you see a Chinese guy with a Southern accent on screen, and after he was hired, Joy tweaked the character specifically for Wu's strengths. "I wanted to use his physicality and soulfulness," she said, describing him as a "formidable force, while also allowing us to see that the portrait of good and evil is never so black and white." Wu filled in some of his character's backstory: while Nick Bannister was interrogating people during the war, St. Joe was a victim. He was interned, escaped internment, and "out of survival, built up this world in New Orleans where he could be the boss and be the king of that world." His character offers poor people an escape through the crime that he sells.

The Future is Real

Oh, and that hologram technology seen in the trailer? Apparently that's real. Newton said it's a "new piece of technology that was innovated for this project," and she described it as almost an "art installation" – but one where the actors "could literally use the technology as they were acting." Jackman expressed his own wonder at seeing that tech in action, saying that when he first saw it, "it broke my heart that audiences might not believe that this is real."

And again, be sure to keep an ear out for Djawadi's score. "We play with noir tropes in it, but I want it to be really updated – I wanted it to reflect the kind of swagger that Nick Bannister has," Joy explained, mentioning that clues are seeded within the music.

As to exactly how far into the future this movie is supposed to take place, Joy wouldn't go on the record. "I don't actually say explicitly what year in the future it is, and that was really intentional for me because the future is catching up to us so quickly, she said. "I didn't want it to feel like sci-fi set indefinitely far away. I wanted this to be really relatable and really present...I wanted the colors to be warm-hued instead of those cool lights." She wrote this script in 2018, but themes like rising waters and the wealth disparity in America have only become more relevant since then. But filtering the story through a sci-fi lens was very important to her.

"Science fiction is metaphor on a grand scale for the things that we are experiencing in this world – for the tremors we feel underneath our feet that we know are going to become quakes at any moment."

Reminiscence arrives in theaters and will be available on HBO Max on August 20, 2021.