A grieving mother, Telly Paretta, is struggling to cope with the loss of her 9-year-old son. She is stunned when her psychiatrist and her husband tell her that she has created eight years of memories of a son she never had. But when she meets the father of one of her son's friend who is having the same experience, Telly embarks on a mission to prove her son's existence and her sanity. Written by
Telly Paretta (Julianne Moore) is mourning the loss of her son to a plane crash 14 months ago. One day a couple small memory-related oddities occur. First she forgets where she parked her car. Later, she swears she was just drinking a cup of coffee but her psychiatrist says she wasn't. Soon, this snowballs and her memory of her son is even challenged. First her husband, then her psychiatrist, then friends say she never had a son. As if that's not bad enough, she ends up in trouble with the police. Is Telly going crazy, or is something more sinister afoot?
I'm a sucker for stories that throw the main character into some extremely alienating situation where they have to spend most of there time trying to figure out what's going on. Films such as Vertigo (1958), The Matrix (1999), Cube (1997), Saw (2004)--heck, even that television show "John Doe" (2002)are all gems for me. So I was a prime candidate for loving The Forgotten.
Gerald Di Pego's script is stimulating for switching the usual device of amnesia around--instead of a protagonist who can't figure out who they are or how they got somewhere, we have a protagonist who swears they know exactly who they and who their family and friends are, it's just that the relevant other characters can not seem to remember.
The crux of the film is an ever-tightening tension as Telly first works to gain allies, then works with them to solve the mystery. Director Joseph Rubin is excellent with straightforward thriller/mystery material, and shows off extra chops with some of the most memorable "shock" scenes I've come across in a long time. There is an amazingly paced car crash that is sure to jolt most viewers. There is another incident with a car and a person that wonderfully puts the viewer off balance while giving them a clue to the mystery. Some characters are absconded in a bizarre and disturbing way. Rubin also takes clichéd thriller climax material and gives it a fun new spin as he plays with character's powers and reality.
It might throw some viewers off that The Forgotten is just as much a sci-fi film as a thriller. It firmly veers into X-Files territory--much more strongly than you'd ever expect from the first half of the film. This is yet another great example of why it's better to approach films with zero preconceptions/expectations if possible. There is also a romance subplot that always remains visible, but relatively far below the surface. On these more conspicuous levels, The Forgotten is an excellent, enthralling yarn, as long as viewers have a taste for fantasy.
Equally interesting, though, are the more subtextual readings of the film. Di Pego and Rubin have poignant things to say about the nature of memory and its effects on beliefs and behavior. The past doesn't exist substantially; it isn't "alive". Only attentiveness and present intentionality can keep the past alive. It can disappear in a wisp, perhaps never to be regained, the moment that attentiveness and intentionality are gone. Ultimately, the film suggests a balance between obsessively keeping the past alive, which can void the present and even precipitate other dangers (this is even stronger in the alternate ending available on the DVD), and fatalistically taking the fact that the past doesn't exist substantially as a cue to completely neglect it. In the dénouement of The Forgotten, such a balance is rewarded, and leads to hope for the present and future while maintaining a reasoned embrace of the past.
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