The sci-fi noir movie Reminiscence will likely be remembered mainly for having the worst opening all time for a major studio release, but what I found most interesting is the gratuitous alarmism. The movie is nowhere near as bad as the reviews and box office suggest—it suffered from having a simultaneous release on HBOMax which no doubt hurt theater sales, and for being a downer about stuff people worried more about before the pandemic—an unlikely date choice during reopening. I suspect it will do better in future streaming as people appreciate some fine acting and cinematography, and a competent, if formulaic, story.
The movie begins with narration unrelated to the plot. It seems that in the near future, perhaps ten or fifteen years from now, global warming has forced everyone to sleep in the daytime and work and play at night. People in the movie wear modern business suits with undershirts and vests in Miami and New Orleans, and no one ever sweats or mentions how hot it is. Outdoor scenes are mostly shot in daylight. No one connected with the movie other than that narrator seems to have remembered that it was hot. It makes no difference to the plot.
Now Lisa Joy, who wrote, directed and produced the movie, is smart enough to have graduated from Stanford, attended Harvard Law and worked for McKinsey. Presumably she knows, or can find out, that global mean temperatures are not likely to rise even 0.5°C in the next ten or fifteen years, at that any rise will mostly be in warmer nighttime lows than in daytime highs. That would leave New Orleans cooler than 200 of the 500 largest cities in the world today, and Miami cooler than 100. None of those cities have resorted to sleeping in the daytime.
The narration also describes sea level rise, which from evidence of the movie appears to be between 30 and 300 feet in Miami (there are considerable inconsistencies). Again, Joy knows or should know that few people project more than six inches of rise in Miami in that time horizon—mostly from the land subsiding rather than ocean waters rising.
But the much larger distortion is that no one moves when homes are flooded. They slosh though the water filling the streets, and take small boats when it’s deeper, rather than walk/swim a few hundred yards inland to the new shore and find new places to live. Thousands of cities in human history have been flooded by changing sea levels, shorelines and rivers and not once have people remained to soak and eventually drown. They build new cities.
Now the rising water is important to the film’s imagery, which plays on the metaphor of memory versus sinking into water. It would be plausible, by the standards of dystopian sci-fi, to posit that failing public infrastructure has caused frequent flooding in poor parts of Miami (or more logically, New Orleans) and people put up with the flooded basements and streets, and blocked sewage and storm run-off, because they cannot afford better housing. People live with that in Venice, Amsterdam and many other places. But no one lives in places permanently and deeply flooded.
The film’s stab at explaining why no one moves is to say that a few rich people bought up all the dry land for pennies on the dollar, because people were so desperate. But why were the people who owned dry land desperate—they should have been demanding a premium for what was now beachfront property, not fire selling for whatever pittance they could get. And does that mean every remaining acre on Earth was purchased (including the vast tracts that are frozen today but would be prime real estate in a warmer world)? And why would rich people in a few years want to put all their wealth in empty land and keep everyone out? Today, and for all of history, rich people have wanted their investments to be worked, or to be rented out.
Admittedly, these are not the wildest improbabilities ever put in a Hollywood movie. They may not even be above the median. But why are they there? The filmmakers are too smart to believe that they are anything but nonsense, and dangerous alarmist nonsense. Anyone who believes there’s much chance of this situation occurring in ten or fifteen years might support economically devastating and environmentally reckless solutions. They might even support going to war to shut down oil production in oil states or economic development in China and India. The movie’s projections rule out the kinds of sensible long-term policy shifts we need to deal with global environmental risks.
I also doubt the filmmakers think the gratuitous alarmism helps at the box office, the way gratuitous sex and violence do. Alarmist catastrophe movies can be very popular, but not because a narrator says something at the beginning, because they show you major cities being blown up, frozen, burned, washed away or whatever. Anyway, this is supposed to be a high-concept, cerebral mystery, not a thrill ride with more action sequences than dialog.
My best explanation is the filmmakers thought the narration burnished their woke credentials, to grease the wheels among Hollywood types anxious to burnish their woke credentials. No one believes this stuff. No one believes pretending this stuff is true leads to sensible policy. No one thinks audiences demand this.
Like peacocks’ tails and Irish elk antlers there is an evolutionary arms race in Hollywood wokeness, leading to perverse extravagance of expression. Once it was enough to have a character make an off-topic aside about climate change, but the next movie had to top that, and the next movie had to top that. Now even relatively highbrow films need gratuitous tirades making forecasts orders of magnitude beyond anything plausible.