Amnesia is often a plot point in daytime dramas that it has almost
become a cliche. But there are still cases where the affliction does happen
to individuals. When I first heard about this film, which was short-listed
for the 2005 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, I confused
the subject with another man whom I had seen on television. In the latter
case, it was a groom who was involved in a terrible traffic accident on the
way to the reception. He gradually got his memory back but it took a great
deal of time and patience on the part of his family and his new wife.

Doug Bruce hasn't been so lucky. The British stockbroker was living
and working in Manhattan. One evening, he spoke to friends on the
telephone, left his apartment in the evening and awoke the next morning
on a subway train in Coney Island, Brooklyn. He was carrying a backpack,
but his wallet was missing and he had absolutely no recollection of his
name, address, or anything. Although Bruce went to the police, they
were ill equipped to handle his case (one policeman that filmmaker Rupert
Murray interviews makes it clear he had NEVER encountered anyone with
amnesia.) Even the hospital was a little hard pressed to treat him.
There seemed to be no head trauma or signs that he had been attacked.
Medicine doesn't really have a standard solution for someone suffering
from memory loss.

It turned out that Bruce had a phone number on him, and that
number belonged to the mother of a woman he had dated. She was able
to identify him and get him to the Greenwich Village loft he owned. Bruce
had been so successful in his financial career that he had retired at the
age of 30 and was pursuing an interest in photography. News of his
condition, diagnosed as the rare retrograde amnesia, traveled across the
Atlantic, and his buddy Murray, who had a career as a documentarian, seized
on the idea of making a film about Bruce and his struggle to begin life anew.

UNKNOWN WHITE MALE is a fascinating movie to watch and if you
go along with the premise (and I'll get to that in a minute), it is somewhat
amazing. Imagine having the opportunity to literally begin your life all
over again. What is it like to experience simple pleasures for the first
time, but with an adult's eye?

There are sceptical people in the world and many have called several        
of the details of this story into question. Murray and Bruce were reportedly
longstanding friends but Murray knew almost nothing of the details of Bruce's
life in New York City. Things like where he worked, for instance. Now, I do
find that matter a bit troubling, and Murray's response to his critics that he
he didn't really care may be true, but since we live in times where elaborate
hoaxes are almost de rigueur (remember that before the
opened in theaters the Internet Movie Database listed death dates for the
three lead actors, believing it was a true story?), a healthy questioning
of the material may be required.

Still, the moviemakers stand by their story; it is a true one. If so,
UNKNOWN WHITE MALE then tells a remarkable tale.

      Rating:                B
      MPAA Rating:       PG-13 for drug references and brief strong language
      Running time:      88 mins.

                        Viewed at Magno Review One
Unknown White Male
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.