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Unknown White Male (2005)

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The true story of Doug Bruce who woke up on Coney Island with total amnesia. This documentary follows him as he rediscovers himself and the world around him.


4 nominations. See more awards »





Credited cast:
Doug Bruce ...
Rupert Murray ...
Narrator (voice)


Just imagine waking up tomorrow with no memory of today or any other since the day of your birth. Imagine living without a history, without experience, no relationships, no past troubles. Imagine starting your life over again, making a new set of friends, finding new talents and falling in love for the first time. Imagine what it's like to see the world anew. On the 2nd July 2003 Doug Bruce left his apartment on the Lower East Side at about 8pm. No one knew where he was going. No one knew he'd gone. He turned up, 11 hours later, on the New York subway heading to Coney Island. He had no idea who he was. Unknown White Male is the startling story of a man who, for no apparent reason, lost 37 years of life history, who lost every memory of his friends, his family and every experience he had ever known. This true story follows Doug in the hours and months following his amnesia, as he tries to pierce his life back together and has to discover the world anew. The film dramatically ... Written by Jess Search

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

amnesia | giving a toast | See All (2) »


If you lost your past, would you want it back?

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for drug references and brief strong language | See all certifications »





Release Date:

January 2005 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Agnostos lefkos andras  »


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$24,591, 26 February 2006, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$124,414, 7 May 2006
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

, ,  »
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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


[first lines]
Narrator: How much of our past lives, the thousands of moments we experience, helps to make us who we are? If you took all of these remembrances, these memories, away, what would be left? How much is our personality, our identity, determined by the experiences we have, and how much is already there - pure "us"?
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References 28 Days Later... (2002) See more »


from "Cavalleria Rusticana"
Written by Pietro Mascagni
See more »

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User Reviews

Strains credibility
22 October 2005 | by See all my reviews

Director Rupert Murray has had to fend off accusations that his film is a fake and it's not hard to see why. Murray is a first-time filmmaker and not a documentarian or journalist of any kind. So a few minutes in when Murray intones loudly and unnecessarily with his best imitation of Nick Broomfield, its sheer inappropriateness seems like parody. UWM has to be the least rigorous pose a documentary filmmaker can possibly strike.

It purports to be the story of Doug Bruce, an Englishman in New York who claims one day to have suffered a complete loss of memory. If Murray had any interest in science, he might've happened upon the fact that the fugue state he describes as being incredibly rare is actually quite common. Several cases a year are documented in the UK alone and a fair amount of case history exists from at least the late 19th C. Instead, Bruce is presented as a pioneer, experiencing something of which medical and psychiatric science has little to no knowledge of—all the better to romanticise Bruce's condition, to which Murray applies a gloss more typical of Hollywood.

That Murray is a friend at least explains his access to his subject and offers some explanation for the lack of objectivity. Instead of a probing investigation, Murray pointlessly renders Bruce's experience through endless sequences of unrelated, rapidly cut imagery of buildings, street corners, cloud formations, fireworks, etc., finding much value in that Final Cut Pro license, no doubt.

A fugue state is a dissociative break from identity and, in reality, is brought on by stressful events. No one in Doug Bruce's life has any interest in what might have caused such a break. No one is probed for knowledge of what was going on in his life and Murray hasn't the skill or fortitude to investigate it for himself. One suspects there must be some clues that would further illuminate the situation. E-mails, bank statements, credit card statements, phone records, etc. would contribute something to the picture but none of this figures in Murray's film.

Instead, we get a highly subjective, sketchy portrait of Doug Bruce who seems to exert a high level of control over the people in his life. No one dares to puncture his assertion of total memory loss, instead they welcome his presentation as a Forrest Gump-like sage of simple wisdom—even when that wisdom is directed at his own father with the force of a silenced revolver. Bruce is surrounded by women in NY; his former girlfriend from Poland appears to take up residence in his East Village loft; an Australian woman falls in love with the new Bruce 2.0 claiming he is without fault; another young woman and her mother nearly adopt him as family. They all eroticise Bruce as a man-child. Predictably, his allure is completely irresistible. Murray never investigates this either.

Murray introduces home movie footage of the man previously known as Doug Bruce, who seems little more than a spoilt, almost callow young man of privilege, which is the one constant of both incarnations of Doug Bruce: wealth and privilege. Bruce lived in a loft the size of which even Monica on Friends could only dream about; for all his medical concerns, Bruce doesn't appear to have any financial worries. His bank account apparently allows him to move forward as his new self with complete ease. There is never any apparent change in his lifestyle.

Bruce expresses no surprise or is at all humbled by the rather lofty, elevated circumstances he finds himself in. There is no relief expressed to find that he is not one of the 45 million people or so in the United States without health insurance. One of the joys of memory loss apparently is rediscovering food—especially if you can afford to tool around NY eating in its finest restaurants. For his part, Bruce expresses little distress or curiosity of his former self and is rather pleased to have suddenly just sprung into existence as a grown man cut off from any sense or, more importantly, OBLIGATION of personal history.

The filmmakers, Bruce's friends and somewhat unwillingly, his family, pretty much encourage his voluntary loss of memory or hoax, which isn't meant to disparage any of the participants. But Bruce's claims of complete memory loss are less than convincing. When Bruce returns to London, he states that, in comparison to the women that surround him in NY, his former friends seem "more like lads," a buzzword of '90's London that belies his claim of total memory loss. He also overly obliges the image of himself as innocent yet wise man-child to a fault—when introduced to a newborn, Bruce marvels not only as if he'd never seen one before but as if he'd never before contemplated our origins as infants. It is a ridiculous scenario of over-the-top romanticism of which this film frequently indulges. (Not surprisingly, we're never offered a similar sequence of Bruce rediscovering homeless people in NY or disparate lifestyles.)

That Bruce is able to move forward apparently without the aid of any counselling, more than happy to fashion a self somewhere between Chauncy Gardener and Forrest Gump, even more at ease assuming the lifestyle trappings of a stranger, strains credibility, which isn't to say that he himself doesn't believe it. What's more difficult is Murray's fashionable post-Memento interest in his friend as romanticised contemporary hero. Murray knows there is a story here, he just doesn't have a clue what it is. The complete disposability of Doug Bruce's former self (and, by extension, possibly Murray's present self) is well outside Murray's own awareness.

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