Unknown White Male

Unknown White Male (2005)

Thirty-five year old Englishman Doug Bruce's episodic amnesia (in which the subject loses personal and factual memory, but not necessarily physical skills and language) is documented by his close friend Rupert Murray. The film is necessarily a complex exploration of identity, memory, and self, and both Bruce and Murray are very present as film-makers.

One morning in 2003, Doug Bruce, living in New York, studying photography after a successful career as a stock broker, finds himself in a subway car on the Coney Island line with no memory of where he is, why's he going there, his name and identity. Bewildered, he finds his way to a police station, and turns himself in... no notion of where or who he is... the only clue to his identity a phone number on a pink slip of paper inside a Lonely Planet phrase book. After being held in a psychiatric ward for some days, he is eventually identified by a recent ex-girlfriend, the daughter of the phone number owner, Eva Eckhart. Over the course of the film, Bruce pieces together his old life, but (strangely or unsurprisingly, depending on your POV) in the process becomes quite a different person than before his memory loss.

It wasn't until I checked the wikipedia article that it occurred to me that this film could be a hoax, and perhaps I am just naive, but it did appear to me that both subject and director were genuine in their intent. Therefore, my conclusions about the film are presupposed on the apparent truthiness of Doug Bruce and Rupert Murray. With that in mind, I was very intrigued at Bruce's ambivalence at the possibility of regaining his memories, regarding himself (very quickly after his life changing experience) to be an all but an entirely new person. It is obvious Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is inspired in part by this story, and it is the unanswered questions in this film that are as intriguing as any script by that mind-bending writer / director team up.

Below, I have included the first ten minutes of the film.

Conversation starters

  • What experience would you most want to have again for the first time ever?
  • Would you be you if you removed all your worst memories? Is it worth differentiating between good memories and bad memories?
  • Did his blonde former girlfriend seem kinda batshit-crazy to you?

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