UNKNOWN WHITE MALE
This documentary tells the true story of Douglas Bruce, a onetime stockbroker and photography student who in 2003 lost his memory overnight, and turned himself into the police unable to recall even his own name. Over the days and months following his discharge from hospital, Doug meets his family members and friends as if for the first time, gradually discovering the person he used to be while also working to make sense of his condition and build a new life.
Review by Jake Wilson:
This mostly absorbing documentary begins like a thriller: riding the subway past the rundown New York projects, the protagonist snaps out of a "fugue state" to find himself unsure of his own identity or where he's headed. The objects in his possession don't provide any immediate answers, but have the pregnancy of clues in a whodunit or an inventory in a computer game: a set of keys, a vial of mysterious liquid, a Spanish phrasebook.
As Doug gradually learns who he is or was, some of the initial suspense falls away, but the essential mystery remains: just what happened to make him lose his memory, and why? Eventually, this riddle merges with the larger mystery of human identity, as the "new" Doug proves very different from his earlier cocky self: more introverted, more fearful, yet perhaps more "authentic," with fewer shields to protect him from the world.
The director Rupert Murray identifies himself as one of Doug's laddish mates, and the style of Unknown White Male suggests a brash sensibility kept in check by sober subject-matter. There's an overuse of visual tricks to suggest a collapsing or expanding consciousness, and the voice-over commentary waffles about the nature of memory in the pretentious manner of Errol Morris' portrait films; Doug has obviously brooded a good deal on the existential meaning of his situation, but it might have been better to let him speak for himself.
At best, the conundrums arise directly from the personal story: on the streets of New York, Doug is fascinated with the mannerisms that establish the personalities of passers-by, and the codes that couples use to communicate. As far as the viewer is concerned, the other people in the film also quickly define themselves as "characters" through well-selected clips - including Doug's past and present girlfriends and his rather ruthlessly genial father, who seems out of his depth in man-to-man talks but does his best to take on the situation in a matter-of-fact way.
By contrast, Doug's own personality is less available either to himself or the viewer. From an outside point of view, though, certain aspects of his identity remain firmly in place: while the idea of creating yourself anew as an adult has its attractions, it helps if you get to retain the privileges of an heterosexual white male with wealth and charm. Still, as always in this kind of documentary we're left to speculate on the reality offscreen - in particular, the unknown traumas buried in Doug's past, which he suspects he might have good reason to forget.
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UNKNOWN WHITE MALE (M)
CAST: Documentary about Doug Bruce
PRODUCER: Beadie Finzi, Rupert Murray
DIRECTOR: Rupert Murray
SCRIPT: Rupert Murray
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Not credited
EDITOR: Not credited
MUSIC: Not credited
PRODUCTION DESIGN: n/a
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Imagine
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Melbourne: September 22, 2005, Other states: October, 2005
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: IDT
VIDEO RELEASE: May 3, 2006