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Unknown White Male
DVD disk
Oct 9, 2006 By: Jason Adams
Unknown White Male order
Director:
Rupert Murray

Actors:
Doug Bruce
Rupert Murray

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
In July of 2003, Doug Bruce woke up on a Coney Island subway not remembering who he was, where he was going, or anything about his past. He was subsequently diagnosed with a sudden, inexplicable case of retrograde amnesia. With a video camera and the help of a filmmaker-friend, Doug began documenting his newfound impressions of the world and his quest to learn about his own life.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
Early on in UNKNOWN WHITE MALE, the main character wanders disoriented in to a police station trying to figure out who he is, the only clues being a handful of mysterious items in his backpack. At this point I was absolutely terrified that this movie was a real-life version of that dreadful John Woo movie PAYCHECK. Luckily, the similarities ended there and UNKNOWN WHITE MALE ended up being an interesting documentary on Bruce’s personal journey and on identity in general. How much of ourselves—our personalities, our relationships, our dreams—are defined by our memories? If you had to start over from a clean slate at age 30, would you end up being the same person? We see these questions encountered and somewhat answered as Doug struggles to cope in his new life with family and friends, fitting together the pieces of his former self.

The film is interesting…to a point. The main problem is that the premise, although intriguing, can’t quite sustain an hour and a half-long movie. I realize it’s a documentary and so there’s no “story” per se, but a good filmmaker should be able to mold his/her footage in to something with some kind of arc and pacing. Here, it’s pretty much the same thing the entire time: Doug is confused/frustrated…cut to a doctor spouting medical jargon…Doug remembers his first time seeing snow, the ocean, etc.…and repeat. There’s never any emotional build or climax, and the film gets dully repetitive after a while.

There’s been some controversy recently as to whether Doug Bruce is telling the truth about his condition or if the whole thing is a hoax. His story does seem a bit too well documented; aside from conveniently having a director for a friend, just about everyone in the movie is young, attractive and extremely well-spoken. Bruce himself is able to articulate his feelings quite easily for someone in his predicament. Of course all that is just speculation on my part and it doesn’t really matter anyways. Fake or not, UNKNOWN WHITE MALE is still a mediocre film, although it may have made a better short than a full length documentary.
THE EXTRAS
A lot of the extras are repetitions of ground already covered in the movie, but I did enjoy hearing Bruce and the filmmakers suck it up and talk about the film’s authenticity.

Q&A with Director and Producer (5:47): The filmmakers directly address the controversy and whether or not the movie is fake. Their answer is Not Fake, and their defense seems genuine. (Although, I guess you can’t really expect them to admit it.) Still, I don’t have any reason to not believe them, so I’ll take the movie for what it is.

Where Is He Now? (7:46): Bruce addresses some of the questions and criticisms about the film and explains why he made the movie in the first place. If I had amnesia, making a movie would be the last thing on my mind.

Making of UNKNOWN WHITE MALE (10:53): The director speaks about how he tried to keep the movie visually interesting so it’s not just a bunch of talking heads. A considerate idea, but the story could’ve used some work first.

Interview with Friends (5:54): Bruce’s friends discuss what he was like before and after the “incident.” Most of this is covered already (at length) in the movie.

The Experts: Extended Interviews (9:39): More from the doctors and philosophers who discuss what they make of Bruce’s condition and how it might have happened. Once again, there’s enough of this in the movie already.

Original Sand Dunes Sequence (4:50): A slightly extended version of Bruce’s abstract walk in the sand. It doesn’t particularly add much, but the scene is set against the setting sun and the footage looks amazing.

And don’t forget…Trailers.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
UNKNOWN WHITE MALE takes the concept of “identity crisis” to a whole new level, albeit not the most successful one. My guess is that this is why movies like MEMENTO and THE BOURNE IDENTITY are anchored by a murder-mystery or a spy thriller—serious memory loss on its own does not the best movie make. (At least in this case.)

Extra Tidbit: In case you’re easily swayed by celebrity opinion, both Roger Ebert and Michel Gondry met Bruce; Ebert said he’s convinced his story is true, while Gondry declared shenanigans.
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