Unknown White Male
Memories are what define each of us as an individual human being. In many respects we are the sum of our experiences. Even with an imperfect memory we still can recall that sunny day on the playground swings, our first kiss or what we saw on television last night. We take our memories for granted perhaps because we cannot imagine what life would be like without them. Unknown White Male: A True Story considers the plight on a 37 year old man who awoke not remembering his past.
At 7 a.m. on July 3, 2003, Doug Bruce awoke on a train in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Living in near that part of New York City Iíve done the same thing many times. The difference is when Bruce woke up he could not remember anything of his past. He goes to the police for help and subsequently to a hospital to be examined by a doctor but the fact remained, he not only couldnít remember his past he was completely in the dark about exactly who he was. The diagnosis from the medical community was the rare disorder, retrograde amnesia. With this condition the patient is unable to remember anything before the onset of the amnesia. Bruce was not carrying a wallet, he had absolutely no identification with him and almost no indication as to who he was or were he came from. The only clue was a phone number written on a scrap of paper. The number was belonged to a woman who didnít know him but her daughter had begun to date Bruce. He couldnít remember her but this was at least something for him, a person that knew him before the moment he woke up. The doctors where puzzled. Usually this form of amnesia is a result of an injury to the head but Bruce had no signs of trauma, no injury at all was evident.
One of Bruceís past friends happened to be an aspiring director, Rupert Murray. Murray takes on the project of detailing Bruceís reintroduction to his past. Some critics have denounced the piece as a hoax pulled to make a film more notable than it should be. One of the reason sited is Murray reported that he knew Bruce since they where teenagers but was uncertain of details of his life. To be fair most of us have people we have known for a long time, know well enough to take in a ball game or a drink but we donít know where they work or the exact detail of their day to day lives. Perhaps these critics are just reacting on a visceral level to how horrible this condition is. None of us want to believe that we can wake up one morning without remembering our lives. Validity issues aside what is presented here is gripping mystery that will pull in the audience.
With no memory of his past Bruce faces an uncertain future. He has to piece together his personal history based on people who seem to know him but are completely unfamiliar to him. In one touching scene Bruce is introduced to his father. Here is a man that stands before him with features similar to his own but completely unknown to him. His father can remember Bruceís childhood, the details of his current life but for Bruce this comes across as a man telling him a story of someone elseís experiences. As more friends are called in the pieces of Bruceís life begin to come together but he learns them like an actor would learn a character in a play. Bruce believes these people are telling the truth but he lacks the internal validation that the rest of us take for granted.
Bruce learns that until a couple of years ago he was a successful stoke broker. In his mid thirties he decided to cash out of the high pressure job and become a photographer. While he has forgotten all he learned about that craft over the years his teacher remarks that he was quick to regain some of his technique regaining two years of training in about two months. He finds out that he came from a privilege background including private school and a nice amount of disposable income. He had been known for his sharp tongue and quick wit. He had frequented the best clubs, drank the best champagne and dated beautiful women. He was very close to his mother and became depressed when she died when he was 28 years old. People that knew him relate that this depression lead to some degree of self re-examination of his life. Now Bruce has the ultimate means to reinvent himself.
With retrograde amnesia the patient retains the memories of how to do the typical and routine tasks required for living. He can still speak in an articulate fashion, he remembers how to dress himself, get around on his own but that is about it. What this form of amnesia what is lost is the events that shape us. He knows what a birthday is but he canít remember any of his. He retained his innate intelligence but separated from his memories he comes across as an almost childlike person. Many of his friends find that they like the new Bruce better. Gone is the pride and sharpness replaced by a personality that is more accepting of others.
His mind is like a computer disc that has been erased. The actual files are still there buried deep but the pointers to them are gone. His therapy is to remake those connections and hopefully restore his memories. Twenty one months after the onset of the amnesia progress is still slow. He has not yet regained most of his past.
No matter what you think of the validity of this film you will find it compelling. The style used by Murray is very jerky with many abrupt cuts. While this initially comes across as disconcerting it actually works considering the topic. It reflects the internal conflict and process that Bruce must feel. His life is now a series of jump cuts and the style here reflects it well. Genius Products does a good job presenting this film on DVD. The audio and video are free of defect and well done. This is a plain vanilla release but the power of the story makes this disc well worth while. Genius has made a name for themselves by bringing films like this to the public. You may have not heard of it and if you do not have a local art house theater you most likely have not seen it. Now thanks to this DVD you can watch this intriguing film. Is it a hoax? Get the disc and decide for yourself.