Shannon Plumb has shot over 200 short films, which have been exhibited in museums, galleries, and on international screens. She started by shooting herself as various characters, acting out three-minute situations using humor and silence as her vehicles for storytelling. In 2013, her first feature film, Towheads, premiered at MoMA as part of New Directors / New Films. You can see her short films at shannonplumb.com and Towheads is available on Netflix and iTunes. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, director Derek Cianfrance, and their two sons.
What if a memory could talk back to us? Could interact with us? What if the memory of a loved one could appear as a computer-generated person? What if your mother or your grandmother could return as a hologram? What if they were programmed through your memories of them? What if a memory could advise you against that color of lipstick, or hug you, or tell you to pick up the wet towel from your bed, or encourage you through the rest of your life, or tell you exactly how to make that fried dough she used to make?
I’m not so fond of death. It’s kind of like throwing up. You know it has to happen, but you really don’t want it to. And it’s the same when you think of people you love dying. When a loved one passes away, we want to hold on tight to every memory we have of them. We want those memories safely stored where they will never burn, never fade, never ruin. We want a glass box for our memories like relics from ancient civilizations. We want memories of our beloved to survive all our experiences we still have ahead of us. But a memory is like a reminder you wrote on your hand. It tends to disappear. We want the memory to stay true, but it changes like a cloud in the sky. In Marjorie Prime, Geena Davis, who plays Tess, the daughter of the main character, says, “Even a very strong memory is always in the process of dissolving.”
“I don’t want to lose my loved ones, I don’t want to forget them,” my heart whimpered as I watched.
Marjorie Prime opens with an old woman, Marjorie (Lois Smith), talking to the memory of her husband. Her husband is now a computer-generated image. As Marjorie relives her memories with him, he absorbs her stories of the past and stores them in his computer memory. Through their discussions, he becomes more and more like the husband Marjorie remembers.
Walter Prime (Jon Hamm), the ghost of Marjorie’s husband, says to Marjorie, “Nobody is who he was, nor will be who he is now.” After years of observing my own parents, watching them grow as they watched me grow, I’ve wondered if they are the same now as they were when I was younger. Some traits they have now I didn’t notice as a child. Am I seeing their real selves for the first time or have they been changing all this time? Are my memories only impressions of what I was capable of seeing then? As a little girl, I had a perspective from a short body, I believed that stuffed animals could come to life, I peed my pants in kindergarten, I thought I saw the Easter bunny’s shadow once. My perspective might have been different then. I might have remembered differently then. If people change and memories change what remains permanent? Love?
In Marjorie Prime there is an important message: “We are so lucky to have loved.” I used to think you should run away from love. It hurt too much; love brings pain. But now I realize it’s true. We are lucky to love. Love has power. It helps people and ideas to grow. It fills any struggle with purpose. It arms people with tremendous courage. Love teaches a person to be selfless. It teaches them to accept what should be accepted, and work to change what should be changed. These days it’s an important time to love.
While I write this, Trump is making allies with more white supremacists. While I write this, Kim Jong-un is thinking of another dare for Trump. While I write this, another terrorist attack happened in Barcelona. While I write this, the earth turns into eggshells and we walk delicately through the day.
Marjorie Prime reminded me to cherish the times, now, with my parents, my children, my husband, my friends. Why tell a memory what you think of it? Tell people now. After all, we never know how long we have.
After watching Marjorie Prime, I had a dream of my father’s death. In the dream, I was sobbing. How could I face the rest of my life without him? When I woke up, I wanted to tell my dad the memories I have of him. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll do it here:
Dad, I remember when you made chicken gravy. You wanted to make me a nice dinner. You put too much starch in the pan. When you stirred it, the gravy stood up like a cement wave. I remember … I respect that you yelled at me to relax when I freaked out about the black crabs crawling over our heads in the mangroves … I love you for having more empty jars in your cupboard than Smucker’s has full jars on market shelves … I love that your broken hands can tango with a paper towel in the wind and still intercept it as it descends toward the ground … Thank you for the table in a peaceful kitchen where I was able to write my first story. I remember that day, everyday … I remember you dropping whole eggs in smoothies, adding berries to make them pink, pouring them into champagne glasses hoping the shape of the glass and color of the drink would sway me away from all the Pepsi I drank … I remember putting chocolate mints on your seat in a hot car so you would sit on them and we could laugh. They melted into the seat of your work pants. I don’t remember you laughing … I remember the sunrise and the smell of coffee as you opened your Thermos in a southbound car to Florida. One of the many trips we took together … I remember riding bikes, eating ice cream cones, almost burning down your house … I remember holding your hand when your mother died … I remember. As we make new memories together, I’ll continue to tell you of the ones I hold dear. And if my memories fade, as I grow old, I will at least know that you heard them from my remembering, that you knew I cherished them, that we laughed about them, that we relived them together.