Mark Reviews Movies

Before I Go to Sleep

BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP

1 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Rowan Joffe

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Anne-Marie Duff, Adam Levy

MPAA Rating: R (for some brutal violence and language)

Running Time: 1:32

Release Date: 10/31/14


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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 30, 2014

There are essentially two plot points in Before I Go to Sleep. Everything between them is a distraction from or irrelevant to the endpoint.

The goal of writer/director Rowan Joffe's movie is to create an atmosphere of uncertainty. Its main character suffers from the sort of convenient amnesia that only occurs in the movies. Its structure jumps back and forth in time in a scattershot attempt to put us in the protagonist's state of mind. Its other characters exist to provide lengthy bits of back story, and most of that information ends up contradicting the information provided by another character.

The point is to make us distrust everyone and everything that everyone says. It works a little too well, because we end up distrusting the movie as a whole. From the protagonist's unbelievable medical condition to the movie's reliance on making red herrings of every character in its minimal cast to its refusal to provide a single emotional beat that isn't undermined by the plot's ultimate revelation, everything here rings false. The movie is a long con that not only cheats us but also—and worse—cheats its characters out of anything that would allow us to relate to them.

The amnesiac heroine is Christine (Nicole Kidman), who wakes up every morning with no recollection of anything that happened the day prior. In fact, she doesn't remember anything between the age of 20 and the moment she wakes up each morning, so her husband Ben (Colin Firth) has to remind Christine that they've been married for 14 years and that she is now 40 years old. The reason for her condition is a series of brain injuries that occurred about four years ago.

If the math doesn't seem to add up correctly, that's because it doesn't. It's important to note that the point in time when her memories end does not line up with the brain damage.

The reason for this is simple, if one looks at her condition with the cynicism it demands. If her memory loss began when it would be most logical for it to begin (the brain damage that caused it), she would remember far too much for the plot to function. She would remember her husband, so he would not have to explain everything (not to mention another major detail about the man). She would remember the events that immediately led up to her injuries, which would mean that she has no reason to have any suspicion of Ben or anyone else in the movie.

It's the stuff of cheap parlor game, not a convincing narrative. The movie's formula becomes apparent quickly and grows tiresome at almost the same rate. Christine learns a fact about her life, and then another character appears to call that fact into question. In the case of what Ben reveals to her, the counterpoint is Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong), who has been studying and treating her secretly.

He explains in ominous tones that Christine was not, as Ben tells her, the victim of an accident but of an attack, so she starts to suspect Ben because of the lie. In the movie's most honest scenes, Ben gives impassioned pleas for understanding. She's not the only one who has suffered, as he suffers every time he must explain the circumstances that led to her condition (Firth is quite good, even as the movie works against his sympathetic performance).

Christine has arbitrary flashes of memory (The movie is quite liberal in instances of Christine remembering things she shouldn't but only, of course, when it's necessary for the game to continue), and she starts to suspect her doctor. What he says leads to more suspicion of Ben, and then an old friend (Anne-Marie Duff) appears to put everyone, including Christine herself, in an untrustworthy light.

The screenplay (adapted from a novel by S.J. Watson) repeats this pattern over and over again, with each appearance of each character leading to a lengthy scene of exposition. In turn, those scenes are punctuated by some melodramatic revelation (a child, a death, an affair, another affair, etc.). Ultimately, those revelations are contradicted by other disclosures or are shown to be unrelated to what's actually happening here.

As for what's really going on behind all this contrived suspicion, it's really out-of-tone with the rest of the movie. Beforehand, Before I Go to Sleep, in its own convoluted way, seems to be trying to find some sympathetic approach to Christine's condition and the effect it has had on those around her. The climax ups the peril and turns to gratuitous violence. It's creepy and off-putting in a way that shatters the little good faith that remains.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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