Monday, November 17, 2014

Film Review and Interpretation: Before I Go to Sleep

Copyright: Clarius Entertainment
Tackling selective and not-so-selective amnesia is a favorite topic for both thriller and comedy filmmakers. Christopher Nolan made cinematic history with Memento and defined almost a decade worth of thrillers, doing for amnesia-stricken characters what Usual Suspect did for the Unreliable narrator back in the late 90’s. Before I Go to Sleep movie delves into the same murky waters of loss of memory, but unlike Memento, it reached a much shallower place.

Before I Go to Sleep was directed by Rowan Joffe in 2014, who wrote some good screenplays like 28 Weeks Later, but didn’t make many films from his latest position. This lack of experience is telling, and Joffe didin’t struggle with his star cast, where the triad of Nicole Kidman, Mark Strong but especially Colin Firth, all produced great roles. Joffe, in spite of this, made a very lukewarm film, which also managed to come off as very unassertive in several key moments.

The story of Before I Go to Sleep revolves around Christine, who wakes up every morning forgetting everything from her early 20’s. But, Christine is now over 40, and has a husband named Ben, who tries to help her to lead a somewhat normal life. But, one day, Christine gets a phone call from a neuropsychologist who claims that there is a camera hidden in her wardrobe, which contains more information. Christine, totally blank as always, begins to watch the videos of her, and the film takes off.

Its thriller narrative pulls many of the regular tropes when it comes to amnesia, and Kidman has enough talent to make all of them entertaining and relatively fresh. In its miniature runtime, the movie isn’t boring or undirected, but its substance is spread so thin that it is hard to care about anything else than the central mystery. Although there are many emotional outbursts, the film deal with such a miniscule film crew (3+1 actors make up 90% of it) that any connection is short and mostly based on recollection of the main character and its later impact (Ben telling Christine stuff, good and bad), not current action or events.

Because of this, Before I Go to Sleep comes off as a hastily recreated radio drama where the images leave a very pale impression on the viewers, while the story doesn’t do much better. In the end, I was left feeling that there is another mystery, left in the wake of the last reveal, only because the central reveal failed to make any impact on me.

Before I Go to Sleep Movie Explanation and Central Flaws

(Spoiler Alert)

Although the film's immediate story isn’t like this, the film is very linear in its core. Christine has a husband Ben and a small son named Adam. In the first years of 21st century, she enters an affair with Mike that ended with him assaulting her and leaving her for dead. She recovers, but with a recent memory cleaning amnesia. Her real husband, who is shown at the end as the guy with the scar, has tried to live with her for years after that.

This fails, while her child continues to grow, and she continues to recollect him as a baby. 4 years prior to the events of the film, he divorces her and puts her into a nursing home, deeming their life unmanageable. Mike then finds her, and pretends to be Ben, only so he could build up a new relationship with her.  Dr. Nasch bumps into Christine and offers to treat her, while no one anywhere notices that she is gone. The film begins shortly after Christinge begins her treatment with Dr. Nasch.

The events of the film are tightly arranged, but fail miserably on several points. Mike is shown to be murderously impulsive (the reason why he assaulted Christine in the first place), but also a genius when it comes to Photoshop, deception and forgery (how he got her out of her nursing home), deeply emotional, patient and a brilliant planner as well. Then, he visits Dr. Nasch to threaten him like a clumsy New Jersey mafia foot soldier, which made even less sense, and only added the possibility of him getting arrested.

Christine’s real husband and son are shown to be loving, carrying figures at the end of the film, but don’t notice mommy is gone for (I’m guessing) months on end. But, in spite of this, they are, all of a sudden, full of warmths and care for her. With this combination, Before I Go to Sleep produced a very unconvincing development that in the end came of as completely broken. While it didn’t make any rookie mistakes when it comes to sorting the amnesia part out, its characters are extremely flawed.