The Good

An interesting film that gets to the heart of how memories define who we are.

The Bad

I wish this movie had been longer.

Unknown White Male: A True Story chronicles what happened to Doug Bruce when found himself on a subway heading towards Coney Island one morning. Doug had no idea how he got there, what he was doing there, but even worse was that he no longer remembered who he was. It is as if his mind had done a total reboot, and while he could still function as an adult, he had no memory at all of his past. This movie captures his journey not to find himself (he makes clear he doesn't care if his memory returns), but rather to create a new life as he and the people around him come to terms with who he is. Apparently, Doug was a cynical guy with a quick wit, and his "accident" has left him more introspective and different overall.

We see Doug getting into his new life while still dealing with remnants from his old one. In some ways it's fascinating seeing this person being able to start anew. How many of us really can change ourselves completely and start over? By the same token, it is also sort of sad and scary because Doug really isn't the same person anymore. Even though he has family and friends, he talks about feeling an "obligation" to them to be who he no longer is. Then, what happens if his amnesia comes back?

Unknown White Male: A True Story dips in and out of cerebral moments, but why it works so well is that it aspires to be nothing more than highly human.

Features

Visualizing Memory: Making Of...

I have to give director Rupert Murray credit for doing this differently. Had he cut together a normal "making of" piece, I don't think it would have been much different than the film itself. However, he has used the stylized footage throughout the film to explain Unknown White Male: A True Story's visual style. Mixing the images, we hear him talking over this and overall I think this featurette adds a lot to this release.

Where is He Now Featurette

The sound on this section of the DVD wasn't as good as I hoped it would be. It isn't terrible, I just had to strain to hear certain things. Rupert Murray sits on the beach with Doug and they talk about making this film, how it came about and I never really felt that the central question of this featurette was answered.

The Man Before Amnesia

Rupert Murray has assembled longer footage of Doug Bruce's old friends. There is a candidness and ease with the camera that I think helps us see the humanity in this group of people. Watching the film I started thinking about my own friends and social networks, and on a smaller level, the shock that it has caused when someone who is known for being one way, suddenly changes direction. I knew this piece had been done well because I came off thinking Doug's friends would be good people to know.

Original Sand Dune Sequence

Looking a lot like something Stan Brakhage might have assembled, we see more images of the Sand Dune sequence from the film. Murray has added an orange filter to all the footage, and over this seemingly disparate mix of images we hear people talking about Doug. While I didn't watch all of this, I got the general idea of what Murray was putting across.

The Experts

This section features more footage with the likes of Dr. Isabel Germano, Mary Warnock and Professor Daniel Schacter. These highly enlightened people discuss amnesia, it's different types, and basically they discourse on the functions of the brain in relation to the rest of our bodies. If you are predisposed toward science, I certainly recommend spending some time with this portion of the DVD.

Q & A with the Director and Producer

Murray begins this Q & A by asking people if they thought the movie was real or fake. (A title card actually begins this segment telling viewers that some people thought the film was a hoax). Only one person raised their hand. Murray then talks about how this was a controversy that followed the film, and that the whole James Frey thing really cast a shadow over the movie. Now, here's the thing... I don't think anybody cared enough to associate Unknown White Male: A True Story with James Frey, and secondly, if this was fake, wouldn't the filmmakers have made Doug's life more interesting. The only question I had was what does this guy do for work? We never see this in the movie.

Video

Widescreen Version presented to preserve the aspect ratio of it's original theatrical exhibition. Enhanced for Widescreen TVs. This movie was filled with a bevy of images, talking heads, conceptual footage, voice overs and music that ultimately, I think, makes it one of the more visceral documentaries on the scene today. The fact that Doug Bruce seems to mirror, in his expressions, the chaos and confusion that this sometimes creates, really speaks highly of Rupert Murray's ability to get inside his subject.

Audio

Language: English. Dolby Digital 5.1. It could have been my TV but I found the audio to get overly distorted at times. It didn't happen a lot but when it happened it was noticeable, so I could imagine how this might have sounded on a setup that was put together to specifically pick out things like this. On the whole, I think that Rupert Murray did a good job of handling the assets of this film.

Package

Doug Bruce's eyes are shown to us amidst an image of a cloudy hillside on this front cover. The back has critics quotes, a description of the film, a Bonus Features listing, a credits list and some technical specs. There are also some pictures from the movie, half of which feature director Rupert Murray.

Final Word

When I first heard about this movie I knew that I had to see it. The idea that what happened to Doug Bruce could happen to anybody is a scary thought. I have a friend who died of a brain aneurism. He went outside to do something in his car, and just like the that the lights went off. These are things we don't think about and it's probably good because we really can't do anything about them anyway. Yet, things like what happened to Doug are always looming around us, but it isn't like Unknown White Male: A True Story spent a great deal of time dwelling on that (nor should it have).

Overall, Unknown White Male: A True Story is one of those documentary films that isn't going to get the fanfare like those that follow hot button issues, however it is one that should be seen even if it brings up ideas that we have almost no control over.

Unknown White Male was released June 1, 2005.