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Overall Rating
3.53

Awesome: 19.44%
Worth A Look41.67%
Average: 16.67%
Pretty Bad: 16.67%
Total Crap: 5.56%

4 reviews, 12 user ratings



Unknown White Male
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by Jay Seaver

"Memorable concept, forgettable execution"
4 stars

Total amnesia shows up in the movies much more than it does in real life, for which we should be immensely grateful. After all, something which is a source of compelling drama is almost by definition something we don't want happening to us. And while amnesia is a fantastic set-up for a story of mystery and suspense, a backstory is not a requirement for the disease. That doesn't necessarily make it a less interesting subject; in fact, stripped of a plot, that type of memory loss allows one to really investigate the concept of identity.

There's no dramatic reason for Douglas Bruce's memory loss. The story begins with him coming out of a fugue state on a train to Coney Island; he doesn't realize that he's lost his memory until somebody his name. Not knowing, he turns to the police and eventually a hospital, who call the phone number on a piece of paper in his pocket (he is carrying no ID). The woman who answers doesn't know him, but her daughter does. He eventually finds out where he lives, that he used to be a stockbroker but retired young and now studies photography. He's got a father living in Spain, two sisters, and an ex-girlfriend who shares his apartment when she's not travelling. He's also got a tiny tumor on his pituitary gland, but it seems unlikely to be the cause of his problem.

The film is made by Rupert Murray, a friend of Doug's from his old life, and as he initially introduces himself, it feels more than a bit exploitive. Murray's opening narration makes it sound like his first impulse upon hearing what had happened was to come to New York and make a film about it; this does not sound like the kind of friend I'd want in that situation. Still, Doug's a willing enough participant, doing a fair number of interview segments and apparently thinking along the same lines, to a certain extent; he brings his own video camera along when he goes to meet his family and relates his experiences on that first day.

There's brief sit-down interview footage with friends, family, and the people who met Doug soon after he lost his memory - policemen, nurses, and the like - but those after-the-fact interviews don't really tell us much. Doug's father says it's weird to have your son say he's pleased to meet you; his sister says that he and his mother were close, and maybe her death had put some stress on his mind. What can be said, other than it's strange and kind of uncomfortable, but he's healthy and still keeping them involved in his life.

Other bits are more interesting. We get some nifty science about the usual causes of amnesia, and how there are different types of memory (thus, Doug can lose his experiences while knowledge and skills mostly remain), although the workings of the brain are still mysterious enough that there's just not much that can be explained or treated. There's an amusing scene where Doug meets old friends in a London pub and he can't remember the rules to cricket (a sport he once obsessed about). It's somewhat heartening to see him feel an instinctive connection with his sister, and one of his instructors discusses how Doug's photography has become much more artistically interesting since he lost his memory, speculating that it may be the result of his brain and personality being partially "reset" or being able to see familiar things for the first time - a child's discovery mixed with adult comprehension. And the revelation that he's not really interested in getting his memory back, while not wholly unexpected, is worth pausing for.

It might be a weakness that we're not shown much of what the old Doug was like. Of course, this may be a strength, too - the title of this film is "Unknown White Male", and Murray's goal may just be to show how someone builds up his life from nothing, picking and choosing which elements of the life he inherited to keep and which to jettison. Still, Murray never really confronts that directly, in terms of coming out and asking why, if Doug's so uninterested in regaining his memory, he goes out to dinner with old friends, or lets one of them film him. I also get the sense that Murray really doesn't have a whole lot of great material, even though it was gathered over a period of several years. Parts of the movie are glued together with Murray's narration over gauzy generic exteriors, and the interview footage doesn't really sound like the answers to interesting questions.

It's still an interesting movie, especially if you're as interested as I am in the idea of identity in flux. It's a little hampered by its lack of raw material, but it's an intriguing enough story.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=11238&reviewer=371
originally posted: 04/13/06 23:00:33
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sydney Film Festival For more in the 2005 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Atlanta Film Festival For more in the 2005 Atlanta Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Chicago Film Festival For more in the 2005 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2005 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2005 Austin Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/02/11 hahahahahah what a joke - amazing as in completely impossible. 1 stars
3/02/08 Pamela White A great insight into the mind of an amnesiac 4 stars
8/30/06 James Very good 5 stars
1/27/06 Belinda GREAT !!! 5 stars
11/04/05 baseball-nut Very good movie, a must see if you have amnesia! haha! 4 stars
10/20/05 Donny B. Enjoyable, intriguing doc -can a jerk become nice if you knock his noggin? 4 stars
9/29/05 Missdontlikeit I dont Like It 1 stars
9/23/05 candice lake this is a beautiful film on an amazing story. truely a gift 5 stars
8/03/05 Rob Dusting Fascinating story excellently told & filmed 5 stars
6/20/05 William Spencer Intriguing, thought-provoking, deeply moving 5 stars
6/10/05 Emily Excellent film, completely absorbing. 5 stars
1/27/05 Nadine Brambilla amazing that this can happen! 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  24-Feb-2006 (PG-13)
  DVD: 05-Sep-2006

UK
  N/A

Australia
  22-Sep-2005


Directed by
  Rupert Murray

Written by
  (documentary)

Cast
  Doug Bruce



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