Caught a Film Society screening of Unknown White Male yesterday evening at the Lumiere, with documentarian Rupert Murray in attendance. This doc rocks!! It's fascinating and unsettling, venturing into philosophy, psychology, neurology. It shakes the foundations of what we consider sensibility, identity and personality (which doctors theorize are constructed from the brain's episodic memory). It's exactly this episodic memory which protagonist Doug Bruce loses during an overnight fugue state.
This is the kind of documentary that makes you start thinking all sorts of things, namely what would you do if you woke up one morning and didn't know who you were or anything about your past? Rupert Murray attempts to replicate this feeling through editing and camerawork and pretty much succeeds.
Past the irresistible allure of committing his friend's plight to film, I had to commend Murray during the Q&A for his loyalty to his friend. Although initially he suggested the project to Bruce in the hopes that it might help him recover his memory, Murray was put on the proper track by Bruce's assertion that he didn't need any help. The documentary becomes more a study of how everyone around Bruce requires help in adjusting to someone they have known all their lives who no longer knows them.
One woman in the audience asked the question that was on my mind. Doug Bruce is an incredibly handsome man with a fabulous Manhattan apartment who, in his previous life, had been a successful stockbroker who had retired at 30 to pursue a career in photography. The women in his life are beautiful, the men in his life are powerful, he was a notorious world-traveling playboy, and though I felt for his plight, I couldn't help considering what kind of documentary Murray would have had if his subject had been a little long in the tooth and not quite so rich? It's perhaps a spiteful consideration but a strong one nonetheless. The eye candy only makes it easier to digest the deep, undercutting issues of amnesia.
It's perfectly understandable how this documentary has garnered such fine reviews and audience identification. You just can't stop thinking, "What if?"