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I saw this movie at a film festival in Nantucket and all I can say is: wow. Wow for the story of the documentary, wow for Doug's personal strength, wow for Rupert's unflinching look into his best friend's new life. The movie centers on a day in July in 2003, where Doug Bruce comes to on a subway in Coney Island with no recollection of where he was, what he was doing or who he was. He went to a local police office, who brought him to an ER and then was later checked into a mental facility. He finds a number in his backpack, which leads him to an old girlfriend who comes to claim him. This might seem like the end of the story, but it is really only the beginning, because Doug still has no memory of any day in the last 35 years of his life. I found myself not wanting the film to end, and when the credits started to role I felt slightly depressed in the fact that I wouldn't be able to know any more about Doug Bruce's life unless another documentary was made. See this movie, see it again, tell all your friends!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The biggest rap I have against this 'documentary' is not its veracity,
but the way it was handled, particularly in its exposition. After
recently watching 'The Love Machine,' an obvious fake doc that insulted
the intelligence, I was in a snarly mood when I picked this up with all
due innocence. I soon found I was being hoodwinked again, and my snarly
Making a really believable faux doc requires tremendous skill, and first-time filmmaker Murray just can't deliver the goods. This is just too tall a tale, and there are a lot of ham-fisted clunks and cracks in the delivery of its story.
I was struck right at the beginning, when there seemed to be no real media coverage of this event, which surely is so unusual that it verges on the sensational. In this hysterical age of pop-cultured 'news,' this incident, if real, surely should have generated heavy-duty news in many newspapers and on many network news programs. The very absence of such hoopla made me smell a rat early on in the flick.
The film progresses with friends, family and girlfriends, but they just didn't engage me at all. I found the whole exercise rather boring. I honestly didn't much care if this guy was authentic or not, and I honestly don't believe he was.
The problem with docs like this, for me at least, is that the director must have an interesting character to begin with, and he/she must be able to sustain the artifice through clever plot twists and talented co-conspirators. Doug (a rather dull subject) and his gang just couldn't pull this off. A director must be able to float an improbable story and make it highly believable. And he/she must, most of all, have superb actors to propel the story and keep us guessing. This film didn't have those ingredients. In the end, I just found it all very irritating.
I recently saw an interesting faux documentary called 'Missing Victor Pellerin,' which sets up an elaborate story about an artist in Montreal who gives it all up and disappears. It really captures your imagination, and it's so skillfully done that you're just never sure down to the last frame whether you've been had or not, and even then you can't be sure. This film was also made by a first-time filmmaker, and it was a brilliant film that worked on many levels.
Assuming the whole thing wasn't a hoax, imaging the luck of being a
budding film maker and having your friend suffer from one of the rarest
and most bizarre medical conditions, which not only appeals to the
public but which is perfect film material. I think Rupert Murray blew
his chance, though. All the artistic camera angles and moods he tried
to portray were totally unnecessary. Like a good chef knows not to
embellish on quality ingredients, so a good film-maker knows not to
embellish on a story that can't fail to be interesting. This film
managed to achieve uninterestingness, though. For the first half, I
could forgive the attempts to capture the mood of somebody coming to
terms with retrograde amnesia, with the jaunty camera angles and
ambient music, after all it's his first film, and he can be allowed a
little pretentious leeway. However, as the film progressed and all
we've learnt is what a wonderful life he had (and will have anew) and
are subjected to close ups of his beautiful ex-girlfriends smiling and
laughing seductively for the camera and close-ups of Douglas smiling
gormlessly as he takes in things for the 'first' time, it starts to
grate. Ultimately there was incredibly little of substance in a
documentary that could have been twice as long and had 10 times the
substance throughout. The fact that he comes from such a privileged
background and is not short of money, love and support, shouldn't have
detracted from how interesting his condition was; but it did, as the
film-maker seemed more interested in celebrating the former and much
less in investigating the latter. There seemed to be a suspicious and
alarming acceptance of his condition from his family and friends. They
seemed more interested in looking demure or cool for the camera than
asking questions, that most viewers were probably screaming at the
television, such as 'Have you checked your bank withdrawals from the
few weeks leading up to the amnesia?'
I think Rupert Murray was trying to make two films here and ended up effectively making none. Either make a film about your friend's memory loss, or make a film about beautiful people, with lots of close ups, longeurs and artistry, but don't make them both together.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
i finally saw this film after many years of fighting it. the subject is a friend of a friend and i had heard it was absolute rubbish (the film as well as his sad alleged amnesia). one could spend hours -- truly well-spent time -- discussing the themes of identity, responsibility and reality and a film of this nature should indeed explore those themes, in order to be a satisfying work of art. however, UWM is so amateur. and it seems to overtly avoid going into depth so as to not expose what is actually at the heart of it: a bored, self-amused man wanted to change his life (and personality) and did so in a very, very dramatic way (oh but oops, without any reporters on the police blotters picking it up...)
What a compelling story, I could not imagine in my life that ever happening, but hey Doug is proof that it can. To wake up and be totally unable to know anything about yourself would be so weird. I know that sometimes when I am driving, for one second I seem to forget which side of the road I am meant to be on, so the longevity of Dougs dilemma (if it be that) would be way profound. He seems to have taken it in his stride, maybe we didn't get to see the "down" side very much, I would have liked to have seem some more emotion on his behalf. I wish him and Narelle all the best for his NEW life, just a real spinney movie, Rupert did an outstanding doco on his mate. Fantastic. I loved it..
So obvious its a fake! A bunch of sloanes got together and tried to make an oh so profound statement to counteract the boredom of buying endless pairs of beige chinos at Gap. Has all the depth of a daz advert, the acting throughout is dire and cringeworthy, couldn't watch it without wanting to stitch my face to the carpet. This proved a much more entertaining way to spend the night, I would recommend quite strong cotton, a steel needle, ice and white rum for the pain. Johnny Vaughn appeared in it twice, once on the back of a bus - why wasn't he under it? The main guy in it was an irritating prick , do we really need to see them on a screen, too many of them in the world, must mean they're breeding, buying toys at fops r us, a chelsea massacre - thats a film Id like to see.
Rupert Murray makes his film directing debut here, in a documentary
movie that tells the story of a friend of his, a young man, Doug Bruce,
an intense and successful stock broker in New York City who one evening
experienced a dissociative fugue state that lasted perhaps up to
several days. Once he had come to his senses again, lying in a hospital
bed, he realized that he had no memory whatsoever for his past: his
identity, name, or personal history. He retained excellent language
skills and other instrumental abilities, could learn new material and
remember it, and even was able to write his first name accurately - his
only link to his past - when registering for medical tests.
Dr. Daniel L. Schacter, a Harvard Memory Psychologist, appears early in the film as a useful talking head, offering us a concise review of the various classes of memory: episodic (personal identity and life events), semantic (general fund of information about the world), and procedural (language skills, how to ride a bike) memory. It is only episodic memory that is compromised in psychogenic amnesia. Bruce's retained language skills and other procedural abilities, and his intact fund of general knowledge, demonstrated that Bruce was suffering from a psychogenic amnesia, not an organic amnesia, i.e., one based on obvious brain damage.
In organic cases, e.g., in Korsakoff's or Alzheimer's diseases, or after severe head trauma, amnesia also is not limited to the past (retrograde amnesia) but also affects the capacity to form new memories and retain newly learned material (anterograde amnesia). An MRI study did show that Bruce had an enlargement, perhaps a tumor, in the area of the pituitary gland, but this could not explain his fugue or memory loss.
Bruce had a broad enough social network stretching from New York City to London to Spain, where his family live - that it did not take long before he was identified and then looked after by people who know him. The film traces his initial medical evaluations, his reunion with friends and family, and his efforts to reconstruct his life. He does gradually fill in some missing pieces, though even 15 months later he has only patchy recall of his past.
We never do learn of any obvious trigger for his fugue state. Apparently he had never before suffered from such an event. Reference is made to the fact that his mother had died, but that was several years earlier. No other major stressors were disclosed. There was no evidence of trauma or foul play surrounding the onset of the fugue. No so-called "secondary gain" factors emerged, i.e., there was no apparent reward to be gained, or scrape to be avoided, by a convenient (malingered) amnesia episode.
Though in various newspaper accounts since the film's release, we learn that Bruce has indulged in a great deal of self promotion around the matter of his amnesia, never tiring of being the center of attention at Manhattan parties, even starting up a website about his situation. Maybe his initial amnesia was real enough, but these subsequent developments do suggest that sustaining his condition has had its rewards.
This was a very frustrating film for me. I kept waiting for psychiatric treatment to commence, since Doug's amnesia was indisputably psychogenic in origin, or at least for more information on a plausible set of stressors to explain the timing and extent of his problem. Initial evaluation by a psychiatrist is mentioned early on, but treatment apparently never came; it certainly wasn't mentioned. So Bruce's case was very much like a 19th Century case, where everyone agrees on the diagnosis and then just sits around waiting. Cost was certainly no object: Bruce and his family were well off people.
The only interesting aspect of the situation was that everybody agreed on Bruce's largely favorable personality changes after the fugue. He showed a fresh sort of innocence, thoughtfulness, emotional openness and sensitivity, where before the event his friends saw him as brash, cynical, and a more flip wit. But these personality changes weren't dwelt upon as much as I would have wanted. At film's end, we see Bruce building a new, more relaxed life, with a new lover and a new career in the arts.
This film held my attention keenly because of my clinical interest, as I waited in suspense for the other shoe to drop: i.e., for resolution of the problem, or at least elucidation of the causes, as a consequence of psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, or the use of amnesia-busting drugs, e.g., sodium amytal or pentobarbital interviews. Why weren't any of these things tried? Did Bruce duck treatment because he knew he didn't need any? Take away clinical pique, and actually found this film is pretty boring: neither the protagonist nor his friends or family are especially interesting people. Bruce's reunion with drinking buddies in London showed them to be especially dull. My Grade: B- 6/10
A Seattle International Film Festival 2005 entry
Wednesday February 8, 7:00pm The Harvard Exit
On Thursday morning, July 3rd 2003 an Englishman stepped off a subway car in Coney Island New York. Doug Bruce had no memory of who he was before that moment. With nowhere to go he turned to the police. Gradually, with the help of his doctors who diagnosed a rare "fugue state" amnesia, Doug reconnected the threads of his identity and within a few days embarked on a bizarre video diary of his own discovery, ala David Holzman. As he was reintroduced to his family and friends Doug agreed to document his story with an old mate, filmmaker Rupert Murray. "Unknown White Male" plays out as a fairly conventional if well crafted documentary. Murray does demonstrate a talent for striking visual montage, but nothing substantial happens and Doug Bruce never regains his memory. While a hospital video made early on seems to show a man in genuine distress, the sequence of events read like Swiss cheese and are ample fuel for skeptics in a post James Frey,"A Million Little Pieces" world.
Having my PhD in Neuropsychology, i is very apparent from the film that this is not a documentary but in fact a fictional story. The symptoms displayed by the character show many things that prove this is fake. It is also, suspiciously likely that the things he does are so "novel" almost as if he woke up and CHOSE to start a new life. Fake it til you Make it. This Is A Fake The Worst part is that his best friend just happens to be a filmmaker and He willingly chooses to pick up a camera immediately after he is "struck" with amnesia. Also, This man chooses to talk about his "condition" as though he is a celebrity... Good Job Fakers It is Pathetic really Nice job with this fake.
One of the most interesting movies I've seen in ages. Not the usual
over-dramatized Hollywood fare, this film moves like nature with a pace
that is not contrived.
I am a psychologist and from that perspective I found it to be truly amazing. The story is of a young man who loses his episodic memory. These cases are rare, and what this means is that he loses the meaning of things as learned through experience. In fact, our perspectives on the world are self-constructed as we grow and experience the world. In this case the main character has lost that kind of memory and therefore people, places and things lack any kind of meaning - it's the most complete kind of loss I can imagine.
At first he is terrified, as one would be, but as he reconstructs his life, you find yourself a little envious of his appreciation of the most ordinary things, something that is available to us only when we can deconstruct the meaning we have created for something. There is an innocence and wonder that is not ignorant or naive, rather it is pure and without baggage.
It would be scary to have this experience, but a great opportunity as well.
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