Cinema Signal:

The Vintage Book of Amnesia:
An Anthology of Writing on the Subject of Memory Loss
by Jonathan Lethem

"You will enter the fugue state, which is like being in a continuous dream. In this, ..."

. "Unknown White Male"

There's a certain challenge here in trusting this to be a legitimate documentary and not a trumped up mockumentary. If it's the latter, a convincingly good job was done by a lot of conspirators, so I'm inclined, on the basis of the evidence as portrayed, that Doug Bruce, the subject of this study in a rare form of amnesia, really did lose his memory one day.

The rarity stems from the near entirety of the loss. Finding himself at the end of a subway line ending in Coney Island, he has no idea what he's doing there. But the even worse part is not knowing who he is or anything about himself. In essence, he's in a position of discovering his identity and literally starting his life all over again.

Landing up at the nearest hospital, he's diagnosed as being in a "fugue state" and declared an "unknown white male." The only clue to someone who might know him and provide an identity is a name on a piece of paper found in his pocket. After a series of phone calls, he reaches the mother of a girl he had recently met. This leads to his release from the hospital and a few further clues to who he was, where he lives, and what he had been, the camera tracking his moves, discoveries, and fears.

For Doug it's like learning about someone else whose cloak of character and history he was trying on like an article of clothing that doesn't quite fit his new, more gentle, less driven personality. The insight of how a man's character and personality is shaped by experience and progression through life, and how a wipe-out of memory might logically formulate an entirely different personality, is intriguing.

His friend Rupert Murray sells Doug on the idea of documenting his experience and begins the case study with a staged return to Coney Island where it all started, a recreation of the hospital experience, then through interviews with those who know him, including girlfriends and family, look-back moments with childhood photos and interviews with a psychologist to explain the ramifications of the disorder from the perspective of little-known facts in the scientific literature.

It's quite a good and thorough job of documentary filmmaking, eliciting a fair amount of anxious concern for a man returning to a functioning awareness with limitations he's all too conscious of. That he's movie-star handsome doesn't hurt the appeal of the film at all, both from a commercial and empathetic viewpoint.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner
                                          Cinema Signals  


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Doug Bruce
Starting a new life... and personality.
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