Reminiscence Ending Explained (Full Plot Walkthrough)

Reminiscence is a science-fiction thriller written and directed by Lisa Joy and this is her first full-length feature film as a director. The story is set in a dystopian future, centred on a man who runs a business that allows people to relive their memories. He falls in love with one of his clients, and she disappears on him, causing him to go down a rabbit hole of memories to hunt for her and the truth behind her disappearance. The cast has Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson and Thandiwe Newton in the leading roles. The film’s non-linear storytelling keeps things intriguing, but it’s not the reveal that one is expecting in the end. Do give it a watch. Here’s the plot and ending of the movie Reminiscence explained; spoilers ahead.

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Here are links to the key aspects of the movie:

Reminiscence: Plot Explained

What happened to the world?

Global warming has caused the water levels to rise, flooding many cities all over the world. This has also resulted in many wars, and humans are left without much to look forward to. The days have become significantly hotter, and people are now active during the nights.

Who is Saint Joe?

Reminiscence Saint Joe

Saint Joe is a drug lord who was once a refugee left for dead in a camp that flooded due to the levee breaking open. He’s a wanted man, and the authorities are looking for evidence to arrest him as they suspect Joe is expanding his drug business to Miami.

Who is Mae?

Mae is a singer from New Orleans trying to make ends meet. Unfortunately, she is introduced to Saint Joe, who gets her addicted to a narcotic called Baca. After this, she remains trapped as Joe’s mistress. One day she makes a run for it, and she steals a shipment of Joe’s Baca. She moves to Miami, sells the Baca, and begins her new life as a singer… again.

Who is Cyrus Boothe?

Reminiscence Cyrus Boothe

Boothe is a dirty cop who helps Saint Joe move his Baca shipment. Over time, he gets greedy and begins secretly shaving off a little from the load. Eventually, Joe gets to know about this, and he sends his men over to teach Boothe a lesson. They beat Boothe up and burn him. Boothe survives and runs away to Miami, where he contracts independently with wealthy, corrupt folks.

Who are Nick and Emily Watts? What do they do?

Nick Emily Watts Reminiscence

Nick and Watts run a Reminiscence Business that allows their customers to pay to relive fond memories; most people believe they don’t have much to look forward to. As a side gig, they also work with the authorities to help navigate through suspects’ memories to unearth incriminating evidence. 

Who are the Sylvans? 

Walter Sylvan is the most notorious land baron in Miami. He burns entire areas to the dust to buy them cheap. Walter has the blood of many on his hands, but the authorities have no proof of it. His attornies state that Walter is too sick to have his memories read, so he walks free.

Tamara is Walter’s wife, who had once come to Nick to relive a memory of her at a bar with Walter, telling him that she thinks she has conceived a boy and the two of them dance. Over the years, Walter begins having multiple affairs, and Tamara builds a false world reliving her happy moment at the bar.

Sabastian is Tamara and Walter’s son and the single heir to all the wealth and illegal businesses. Sabastian is aware of Walter’s flings, but his attention falls specifically on a woman named Elsa Carine.

Who is Elsa Carine? Why is she important?

Reminiscence Elsa Carine

Elsa is one of the many women Walter has had an affair with. However, Walter appears to be in love with Elsa, and the two of them have a child – Freddie. Given Freddie is Walter’s bastard son, he can legally claim an inheritance, and Sabastian does not want this. He hires Boothe to find and kill Elsa and Freddie.

Boothe’s Objective

Boothe follows Elsa and plans to kill her and her son. But he realizes that she’s been reliving memories at Nick’s place, and those files will link Elsa back to Walter. Boothe blackmails and hires Mae to infiltrate and steal all of Elsa’s recordings.

Mae’s Objective

Mae Watts

Fearing that Boothe will give her whereabouts to Saint Joe, she accepts the job and studies Nick. She reaches out to Nick’s fellowman to learn a lot about his past. She purposefully stages losing her keys and approaches Nick asking for help to find them using the Reminiscence machine. Mae’s plan was to seduce Nick, gain his confidence and finally steal Elsa’s recordings. However, she falls in love with Nick and can’t get herself to steal from him. Boothe realizes this and threatens Mae, and she’s left with no option. 

One day when Nick is not around, under the pretext of conversing with Watts, she steals the keys to the file-walt and opens the safe using the tune that Nick has set as the passcode. Through conversations with Nick and his fellowman, Mae had already extracted this tune a long back but didn’t use it to steal from Nick until forced. Mae hands Boothe Elsa files. Unable to accept that she will be responsible for the death of two people, she follows Boothe. While Mae is unable to save Elsa, she arrives on time to grab Freddie and run for it.

Freddie’s Location

white clapboard house in the middle of the waves

Mae takes Freddie to a place in the middle of the ocean where she once took refuge thanks to a kind old lady. She returns to meet Nick and tell him everything but Boothe intercepts. Mae agrees to tell Boothe everything she knows in return for Nick’s safety. Boothe takes her away and stuffs her with Baca to force her to reveal Freddie’s location. Knowing well that she cannot walk away from this and that her disappearance will get Nick hunting for her, Mae gets up to face Boothe and says her apologies and goodbyes to Nick. Mae knows that Nick will eventually hunt down Boothe and go through his memories to find this moment. Mae also reveals Freddie’s location by mentioning the ocean, the place she once tells Nick about. After that, Mae… umm… kisses Boothe… and kills herself. I understand the cinematic effect and everything, but… couldn’t she just kiss the air or something? I mean… it’s Boothe.

Let’s backtrack and follow Nick. After stealing Elsa’s files, Mae disappears. Nick suspects foul-play and begins obsessively going through all of his memories for clues about where Mae could be. Watts tries telling Nick that Mae might have just moved on, but Nick knows the love they shared was real.

One of the investigations related to Saint Joe leads him to a memory of Mae when she was a drug addict in New Orleans. Nick is upset that Watts knew about Mae’s Baca history but never mentioned it to him. He goes over to Saint Joe’s place to find out about Mae, only to learn that Joe knows nothing. Just as Nick is being drowned, Watts shows up and guns down everyone and kills Joe. Umm… the authorities were carefully putting together evidence to give Joe a 10-year jail time, and Watts just kills everybody, including Joe, and walks back home with Nick with no consequences? What happened, authorities?

Nick uses Watts’ memories to find that Mae stole Elsa’s recordings. He goes looking for Elsa only to realize that she was killed and her son was kidnapped. Boothe, who sees Nick snooping around, attacks him and says that Mae has moved on and he should stop looking for her. Odd that Boothe doesn’t kill Nick, given no evidence connects the two of them. Using the memory of this moment, Nick and Watts learn that the assailant was Boothe, the dirty cop who once worked with Saint Joe. 

Tamara Sabastian Sylvan

Nick comes to know of Walter’s death and sees Tamara leaving with her son. He recollects Tamara’s memory with Walter and matches the voice and sentence in Elsa’s memory, learning that Elsa’s secret lover was Walter. Nick goes over to Tamara’s place, asking her for Boothe’s location. He snaps her out of her insanity for a short moment, and she tells Nick where he can find Boothe. Lucky for Nick, he’s spared by the security who had also served in the war.

Nick finally locates and fights Boothe. Knowing that he’s the only one who can lead him to Mae, he saves a drowning Boothe, subdues him and takes him to the Reminiscence machine. Going through Boothe’s memories, Nick learns how Mae initially staged everything but fell in love and sacrificed herself for the sake of Nick and Freddie. Furious, Nick makes Boothe relive the moment he was burned and locks his consciousness in a loop until his mind fries. 

Reminiscence Ending Explained

Reminiscence Ending Scene Sabastian

The ending of Reminiscence shows Nick confronting Sebastian with the fact that it was he who hired Boothe to kill Elsa and Freddie as he didn’t want to share his inheritance. And that Mae’s inability to shake off Boothe caused her to kill herself. After that, Nick heads over to Watts and confesses everything, including his intentional frying of Boothe’s mind.

The authorities who have been trying to bring down Walter’s operations finally have the ammunition to arrest Sebastian. While they cannot let Nick walk, they offer him the option of spending the rest of his life reliving the fond memories of his time with Mae. Years later, Watts is shown to visit a sleeping Nick with her granddaughter, letting us know that she reconciled with her estranged daughter based on Nick’s advice.

Final thoughts on Reminiscence

The fundamental concept of people having the choice to look forward vs look back was great. Nick, who’s always been a look-forward type of guy, is shattered because he loses the love of his life and decides to live in the past forever. While Watts who is stuck takes Nick’s advice to look forward and make amends and reunites with her daughter. In this dystopian world, either options are valid choices. While the non-linear storytelling was engaging, the final reveal wasn’t exceptional. More than this, I kept noticing the problems with the memories that formed the crux of the film. If we were looking at people’s memories, they would most definitely be in the first person, as that is how we tend to remember them, not cinematically, as shown in Reminiscence. There is only so much information one can draw from peripheral vision. The changed perspective of the memories allows Nick and Watts to constantly locate clues that were not part of the person’s field of vision. It felt a little too convenient. Finally, the last scene does make you wonder how a person could last years in a Reminiscence machine without food or water. Wouldn’t Nick need to be hooked up with tubes to keep him alive like in The Matrix? I guess since it was just one scene, they didn’t bother going into the hows.

What were your thoughts on Reminiscence and its ending? Do drop your comments below.