Saturday, November 1, 2014

Before I Go to Sleep [2014]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune/Variety (2 Stars) (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
ChicagoTribune/Variety (G. Lodge) review (B. Tallerico) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Before I Go to Sleep [2014] (directed and screenplay by Rowan Joffe based on the novel by S.J. Watson [IMDb]) tries really hard to be a Hitchcockian "amnesia" film.  Does it succeed?   While that determination would have to be up to each viewer/reader, I can attest that the attempt is certainly sincere.

The film's central protagonist, Christine (played by Nicole Kidman), wakes-up each morning in terror and confusion having forgotten everything that had happened the day, and indeed over the last 15 years, before. 

The man who she wakes-up next to calmly introduces himself (he's done this before...) to her as Ben (played by Colin Firth), her husband.  He explains to her that (1) she had an accident some 10 years back, (2) as a result of her accident, she's lost her ability to retain new memories and (3) she wakes-up each morning with the last 15 years erased from her memory, believing that she's still in her mid-20s even if she's now 40. 

He has some pictures of him, her and the two of them together up for for her in their bathroom, so that she can at least remember who the two are but little else.  After giving her this daily morning debriefing, he kisses her goodbye, leaves her (presumably confident that she won't hurt herself) in their house and calmly goes off to work as a chemistry teacher in a nearby secondary school.  She's left, each day, staring at the windows, furniture, and pictures of her, Ben and them together, struggling (but try as she might, failing...) to remember anything else at all

Now it turns out that she really did have that accident/incident 15 years ago that really did destroy her ability to keep new longer term memories.  As a result, her case had been studied by various neuro-psychologists at the time and though apparently none had been able to help her in the past, one of these neuro-psychologists a Dr. Nasch (played by Mark Strong) decides to look her up and try to help her anew. 

Each morning, after her husband leaves for said chemistry job, Dr. Nasch calls Christine's home, reintroduces himself to her, and tells her go back to her wardrobe and find a shoebox at the bottom of it where he's had her place a digital camera that he had given to her some time previous (with an appropriately large "flashcard" memory) and where he has her record (for recall) "a video diary" so that she could come to remember at least some of the events of the previous day(s) and thus (re)acquire a new kind of long term memory. 

Each day, she's surprised to receive the phone call from Dr. Nasch, but each day she's surprised to find that she really has that digital camera with her recorded on it, giving herself instructions about what she's learned during the previous day(s), and above all, what she's learned about her past.

'Cause, obviously there's something wrong ... Each day, when Christine wakes up, the only person she encounters is Ben, who, while kindly/nice, leaves her with _nothing else to think about_ EXCEPT, him, her and their apparent relationship together.  Where did she come from?  Did she have friends?  Who were her parents?  What did she do / study / dream, prior to her accident?  When she does ask (occasionally) Ben these things after he comes from work, he does answer her questions.  But he does so with an attitude of, "You're not going to remember any of this tomorrow anyway.  So I'm sorry if I don't seem all that forthcoming until you come to me to ask me these things on occasion.  We've been down these little paths of inquiry of yours various times before."

He says all this quite calmly, quite soberly, quite somberly, and even quite convincingly.  So both she (and we, the viewers) would largely want to believe him.  After all, remember what HE'S gone through here as well.  YET ... isn't it odd that the only pictures in that house are of him, her and them together.  And even that the medical doctor is apparently calling her "on the sly..." to remind her of that digital camera he's given her to keep in the shoebox at the bottom of her wardrobe.

Obviously, much needs to ensue (and, yes readers/viewers, much does ensue ...) but to say more would get into various levels of spoiling the story for you.  So I'm going to leave it here.

Is it a great story?  I don't know.  But IMHO it's not a bad one.  And it does invite one to place oneself into the shoes of every one of the characters in the story.  What would you do if you found yourself in this situation (or had a loved one who found him/herself in this situation)?

As such, I found it to be a rather thought provoking (and perhaps subsequent discussion provoking film).

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