Unknown White Male
Amnesia seems like such a
fictional disease. You see it in the movies and you suspend disbelief,
considering it a plot device, nothing more. It is rare that it
actually makes its way into real life and becomes an immediate and scary
However, as much as we may
like to dismiss the ailment as something that happens to other people, it is
rare that we take into account what it's really like to
those victims. It's not all a dramatic Hollywood thing where
people are bonked on the head or have seen a murder. Sometimes, people
lose their memory for no apparent reason. Sometimes they don't get it
back in a flash in the final act.
What is life like for them?
How do you respond to suddenly having no history, knowing no one, having to
start your life from scratch? How would you react? How would you
be different? In the end, would you even want your old life back?
These intriguing questions
form the backbone of this fascinating documentary. It sprang from a real case
which hit close to home to London-based documentarian Rupert Murray.
An old pub mate of his, a man by the name of Doug Bruce who had long ago
moved to the United States, had become stricken with complete amnesia.
One day, Bruce was in his
Greenwich Village loft, apparently ready to retire for the night. The
next thing he knew, it was morning and he was on the subway at Coney Island,
with no idea who he was or how he got there. The film recreates the
experiences. How he went to the police for help, was hospitalized and
they were unable to figure out who he was. How the written telephone
number of a date's mother seemed to be a false lead but finally led to his
identity, his name and address.
These sequences, with their
quick cuts and fish-eyed lenses, do a good job of capturing the disconnect,
the sense of complete confusion that Bruce must have felt.
In a smart
filmmaking decision, the medical aspects of the condition are somewhat pushed to the
side. Unknown White Male instead gazes at the emotional aspects
of the change. It achieves the surprising sense of actually making the
condition seem somewhat romantic. It shows how Doug has become a
better, more feeling man, without all of his old baggage. It shows how everything is fresh and
exciting to him -- even the most clichéd things are now fascinating and new.
I'm not going to lie, a
little of this film is a tiny bit suspect. Bruce apparently started filming
his reactions to things very early into the process, giving a fascinating
video of the experience, however you have to wonder whether -- or even how
-- a man in his position would even think to make a chronicle like this so
that an old friend he didn't even remember could turn it into a documentary.
However, I don't want to be
a cynic. This is a fascinating story, so I will take the filmmakers at
their word that this was all just synchronicity and the nature of the man.
After all, when he first "meets" his sister in Spain he is videotaping and
she laughs and says some things don't change, he still has his camera.
Maybe that part of him was just so hardwired into his psyche that he took to
it naturally. There is no way of really knowing. All we can say
for sure is that friends, family and doctors believed that he had
legitimately changed. They would know better than we would. (2/06)
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Posted: February 3, 2006.