The Reminiscence ending might not be on Inception levels in terms of hair-pulling cliffhangers – but the road to get there is similarly dotted with several major moments that race by and will have you questioning everybody’s motives. There’s rug pull after rug pull, and a heart-wrenching ending that might overshadow some of the double crosses that come before it. It can get so complicated that it might even have you wishing you had a machine that could replay your own memories at will.
So, let's make sense of it all. Below, we’ll run through all of the story beats in Reminiscence’s final act as the sprawling noir tale snares multiple main characters and includes a final scene that might feel too out of left-field for some.
As a bonus, there’s even some commentary from director Lisa Joy – including whether the fate of Nick (Hugh Jackman) and Watts (Thandiwe Newton) is a happy one.
- Read our full interview with Reminiscence director Lisa Joy and actor Daniel Wu
Reminscence ending explained: your biggest questions answered
Who was Mae?
Throughout Reminiscence, Nick is chasing the ghost of a memory – that of femme fatale/lover Mae (Rebecca Ferguson).
As Nick slowly uncovers throughout the runtime, Mae has several secrets of her own and their ‘chance’ meeting was anything but.
Not only is she a recovering addict who falls in with some seriously bad company in New Orleans, she has hatched a plan with rogue cop Cyrus to take the memories of Elsa from Nick’s vault. Why? As it turns out, Elsa was the mistress of Walter, one of Miami’s infamous Barons. She's even hiding a dark secret: a son that only Walter knows about.
When Walter dies, Mae falls in league with Walter’s (legitimate) son Sebastian to help kill his half-brother.
Mae, though, shows her true colors – and has a change of heart. She steals the son away from under Cyrus’ nose and whisks him off to an unknown location. Knowing that her memory is a powerful tool in the wrong hands, she deliberately overdoses and throws herself off a balcony. A sad end for a tragic figure.
So, who was Mae? Reminiscence paints her as several people: addict, Nick’s lover, and one of the movie’s minor antagonists. Ultimately, she is someone who was forced to double cross Nick after falling on hard times, but her true feelings for Hugh Jackman’s lead got in the way.
How did Nick find Walter’s son?
Mae tells him. But, of course, this is Reminiscence. The medium of the message is a little more complicated than that.
Knowing Nick would rifle through Cyrus’ memories, Mae tells Cyrus in the past that he knows where to find Walter’s son: it’s where she feels "safe".
Cyrus, of course, doesn’t know what that cryptic message means. But Nick does, and it soon becomes clear she's speaking to him through Cyrus' memories.
Earlier in the movie, she told him of a time where she took solace in a house out in the water owned by a woman named Frances. Mae, then, gave all the clues she needed to – and gave Nick the ‘map’ to finding out where Walter’s son was stashed away.
What was Cyrus’ plan?
Despite Cyrus being the Big Bad of the piece on the face of things, his plan was actually hijacked by Sebastian. He was but a pawn in a larger game being played by the progeny of a wealthy Baron that would do anything to avoid slumming it in flooded Miami.
After discovering he had a half-brother who was liable to take a large amount of his inheritance after Walter’s death, Sebastian put the wheels in motion to kill both the boy and his mother, Elsa.
To do so, he hired Cyrus – who had originally been tasked with gaining Elsa’s memories. He succeeded after Mae learned that Nick’s ‘key’ to the lock was actually a tune he used to whistle. While getting Watts drunk, Mae swooped in and took the (literal) memory card containing Elsa’s memories, as well as the proof that she slept with Walter, something that could then be destroyed along with Elsa.
Unfortunately for Sebastian, Nick uncovers the plan thanks to tracking Cyrus down and putting him in the tank to relive his memories.
What happens to Nick?
After finding out the masterplan and all of the people he has made suffer, Nick ups the voltage on Cyrus in his memory machine and fries his brain. In a cruel twist of fate, Cyrus is forced to relive his worst memory for the rest of his life: being set alight by Saint Joe’s goons.
Nick then confronts Sebastian in one of the movie’s weirdest scenes – which is saying something. Sebastian’s mom, Tamara, is coping with her failing memory, but only thanks to Sebastian hiring actors to play the role of Walter. He helps re-enact one the last memories she can still recall, that of the pair embracing in a clock shop, on an endless loop.
Nick (as a fake Walter) reveals that he’s tipped the cops off to the location of Walter’s illegitimate son and that they know all about Sebastian’s scheme. Nick gives the weaselly son a choice of killing himself or waiting for the authorities. He can’t go through with shooting himself and ends up falling inconsolably into his mother’s arms.
Hugh Jackman's lead is then faced with facing his own music...
The time jump – is it a happy ending?
Nick knows he’s on borrowed time – so makes the most of it. Instead of going to jail for putting Cyrus in a memory loop, he’s able to work out a deal to go to a prison of his own creation.
Jump forward a few decades and we see what that means: Nick is in the memory tank, reliving his time with Mae over and over again. Watts, now with a granddaughter (confirming she reconnected with her estranged daughter), watches over Nick. He has a warm smile on his face, but is still a man destined to live out his days trapped in his own memories.
But is that a happy ending? It’s a question we put to director Lisa Joy, who has positive feelings about the fates of both Nick and Watts.
On the ending, Joy said, "I do think it's a happy ending for him. And I believe that it's also a happy ending for Watts, who chose a different path… I understand that once Bannister saw Mae fully and was able to appreciate her and truly love her, not just lust after something he was chasing, that he never wanted to stop looking at her. That was when he was at his most complete and his happiest."
Joy continues, "And so, for me, it's a happy ending for him to stay there with him. On the other hand, it's a happy ending for me for Watts, to have stopped hiding from the world, to stop running from our problems and to embrace the future and connect with her family again."
Reminiscence is now in cinemas in the US and UK and streaming on HBO Max in the US. Need more to look forward to? Check out all the most exciting upcoming movies heading our way.