Before I Go to Sleep

Those pesky confabulations really can be a bugbear!
★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
2014
Director: 
Rowan Joffe
Starring: 
Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong
The Setup: 
Woman forgets everything every night when she sleeps.
Discussion: 

I was kind of curious about this when it was out, because I like to know what Nicole Kidman is up now now that she has unexpectedly and suddenly become kind of scarce, and I love me any kind of psychological thriller. I have a high degree of tolerance for these movies, and it’s a good thing, because this one was pretty awful, but in a way that kept me riveted and watching interestedly right til the end. So let’s get to it!

So Nicole Kidman is Christine, forty-year-old woman suffering from bad hair. She wakes and goes into the bathroom, where she finds a bunch of pictures, including wedding pictures, showing her life with Colin Firth as Ben. When she comes out, he explains that he’s her husband, and that she forgets everything from the past 14 years every night when she sleeps, because she had an accident. He goes off to work [“Hi! You know nothing! Why not just hang around the house today? Okay, bye!”] after telling her to pack to go away for their anniversary, that evening. A Dr. Nasch [Mark Strong] calls. He directs her to a camera in the back of her closet. She is using it to keep a video diary, which she re-watches every morning, after he calls. She’s been in secret therapy with him, unbeknownst to Ben. After this electrifying opening, which has surely got you hooked through it’s beguiling mixture of grimness and somnolence, suddenly: TWO WEEKS EARLIER!!!

She meets Nasch, who tells her that she has amnesia from being severely beaten. But… Ben said she’d been in an accident! She wonders aloud into her camera—which she always seems to record while Ben is in the other room or just about to come home—what else Ben has lied about. For therapeutic reasons, Nasch takes her to where her body was found, which—pay attention, this is the one clever touch in the film—is in a mannequin factory, filled with identical, faceless, nude women’s bodies. She is told that she had just had sex, but was not raped, and was covered in nothing but a sheet. Nasch shows her a bunch of pictures, including one with a friend she starts to remember: Claire. That night, she tells herself via video diary: “Don’t trust Ben!”

You kind of have to understand that it just kind of rolls on like this, and the only thing I’ve written down are the new revelations and plot twists. And it soon becomes apparent that those new revelations, doled out every few minutes, are all the film has. Wake, tears and trauma, new revelation, trauma and tears, new [and hardly scintillating] video diary entry, more suspicious time with Ben. We’re also starting to realize that this is one of those movies [another is poor Sandra Bullock’s nightmarish Premonition] that actresses are drawn to because it’s a serious, psychological role, without understanding that they are going to be depressed, crying and agonized for EVERY SECOND of it’s running time. And it’s a serious downer and potent bummer, and pretty much sure-fire sign that your movie will fail. Which both did! But still, there are shocking revelations to unveil…

SPOILERS > > >
First, Christine remembers that she had a son! She is starting to remember little flashes of things, which, as is common in movies, are starting now, but apparently never happened before in all of her 14 years as an amnesiac. Ben tells her that he hid pictures of the boy because he couldn’t go through the trauma of dealing with the grief of his death every single day. There’s an okay jolt when she suddenly remembers that her assailant was named Mike, then sees Nasch’s badge—and he’s MIKE! And he suddenly chloroforms her! But he later says that it was a “confabulation,” her mind combining him with the person who really did it. Oh I see. A confabulation. Quite simple, really. Next time I physically attack a stranger or member of my family [which is happening with alarming regularity lately] I’ll just say it was a confabulation.

Just kidding about that last part. I have thus far been able to avoid physically attacking the tens of thousands of people who annoy me. Anyway! Nasch tells her that he can’t see her anymore—because he loves her! But, she needs him! So that’s that then, confabulation or no. Then we find out: Ben divorced her four years ago! He says it’s because he couldn’t stand the pain, or something. Then: Claire’s been trying to reach her! And she calls! And they’re going to meet in Greenwich [and you’re like “Ummm, you're severely mentally ill... should you really be driving?”]. She meets Claire, and finds out… Claire slept with Ben! That’s why Claire had to disappear! For this last period, the film has just been doling out new revelations every few minutes. Christine now feels all good and warm about Ben, and tells him about the camera, and that she’s been seeing Dr. Nasch, and… he hits her!

I forget whether she sleeps/forgets after that, but the next revelation in line is the money shot: Claire calls, and says she talked with Ben, but he hasn’t seen Christine in four years… meaning that Colin Firth guy she’s living with… ISN’T BEN!!! Christine tries to slip out of the house, but Ben/Not Ben grabs her and drugs her. It’s too bad, because the movie could have gone in some interesting directions at that point… like having her seek outside help, having her trying to escape without falling asleep, or otherwise just opening up the hermetically-sealed movie a little bit. But no, she falls asleep, and wakes up with memory wiped the next day. Ben/Not Ben reminds her they’re going away for their anniversary that night.

Only, as we know, she’s been spontaneously remembering little things as the script calls for it, and this morning she looks at all the wedding/marriage pics on the wall and finds that Ben/Not Ben’s face has been rather hilariously badly photoshopped over the face of her original husband [who kindly made their wedding photos available for the impostor’s photoshopping needs, apparently? Let’s be polite and not ask questions]. Regardless, I found the OBVIOUS photoshopping to be hilarious, and it kind of works against us taking Christine’s character seriously, but… maybe she went amnesiac before Photoshop was in the public consciousness? Anyway, time for the SUDDEN wrap-up!

Firth takes her away for their anniversary… to a hotel near the airport, which is near where her body was found. This is the hotel room she saw in a vision! He says he’s suddenly, inexplicably, ready to come clean about everything. The deal is: He is also named Mike. They were having an affair, but she wouldn’t break off with Ben, so he beat the living shit out of her and left her for dead by the mannequin factory. Then, as the real Ben had left her in the care facility for ten years, divorced her and took off with the kids, Mike thought he’d just spring her and create this whole phony reality where he lives as her husband. What he gets out of this, we’ll never know, since she’s always depressed and crying, he spends the entire day at work, and they have precisely zero hot fucking, but you know—he’s a psychopath, end of explanation.

Anyway, thus begins a truly nasty scene in which he viciously beats her, quite, quite badly. It’s quite unpleasant to watch, and makes you start to wonder why Colin Firth specifically would want to do this movie. During this, she spontaneously realizes that her son is alive and—according to movie bylaw XP-3409—her maternal instinct kicks in and suddenly gives her the will to survive. She finds the clothes iron in the closet, and applies it with force to Mike’s head. She does not, like any intelligent heroine, make sure that he’s dead or bind him while he’s out. She does pull the fire alarm in the hallway, which wasn’t bad. By the way—that was your climax, hope you liked it! Although it was so dull you might not have known.

We next see Christine making another entry in her video diary, saying “I will never let anyone steal my life from me again.” I think this is supposed to be here as an inspirational, you-go-girl message to provide some kick to the dramatically dead ending, but it seems to me… if someone stole your life from you once, you’ve pretty much already lost, you know? Anyway, she’s in the hospital, and the real Ben comes in, and he brings in her son, and they have a touching moment remembering a childhood game, then Christine says “I remember!” and we have tinkly piano music as we fade out.
< < < SPOILERS END

It really was awful. One is left wondering why these good actors agreed to be in this, but apparently the book was a big bestseller, and perhaps they thought it would be a sure fire hit? There are numerous inherent problems. The first is that in these movies where the person forgets everything every night, there is a huge challenge in moving the story of the movie forward, since they start at the same place every morning. They were able to make the forgetting an emotional component in the romantic comedy 50 First Dates [which, to my surprise, kept me weeping for nearly its entire running time], and were able to give it structure in Memento by running the narrative backward. But here we’re solidly in Christine’s perspective, forcing us to wake up with her every morning, and forcing the movie quickly into a “new revelation every 5 minutes” structure to keep things interesting. The movie also starts to fudge Christine's complete loss of memory, for if they didn’t it would just be too hard to keep everything going.

The second big problem, and it’s a huge one, is that Kidman is crying or deeply anguished for the entire running time. It can’t have been fun for her, and it sure isn’t fun for us. She’s confused, she’s suspicious, she’s screaming, she’s crying… never once laughing or smiling, and it wears out its welcome real fast, as well as limiting our sympathy for her, and our worry that she’s in peril, as it keeps her in the tearful victim role for the entire movie. It also makes the movie seem ten times longer than it is. And by the way, most of the movie takes place in her gloomy house under cloudy skies if not outright rain. I think if you want audiences to put up with a big dreadful bummer of a movie, it’s got to be something utterly brilliant—we’re talking Ingmar Bergman level here. But your shitty little airport thriller about a made-up neurological condition isn’t going to cut it. It’s occurring to me right now that Kidman was in another movie in which she’s crying and anguished the whole time, Birth, but that one worked [for me—most people hated it] because it had a real story that moved forward, loads of directorial panache, and real emotions.

And all of this is not to mention the serious logical questions. So, Christine had NO friends or relatives that visited her? How would the impostor even have possession or all her wedding photos to doctor? Her original husband didn’t notice when all the bills from the hospital stopped coming, because she’d been checked out? Who does all the cooking, cleaning and shopping? How does the impostor have her son’s birth certificate? It goes on forever. And these are just the logical questions, there are others that just don’t ring true, like what even a psychopath would get out of living the kind of life they live from day to day in this movie—where’s the fun? Why is it even worth all the trouble?

In sum, a real load of crap. Pretty much nothing good to be said about it. Although it remains relatively gripping for it’s not-long running time, so, you know, if you like watching failures….

Should you watch it: 

Not unless you are knowingly watching a bad movie.

Comments

I can't believe Adam Sandler made a better movie about a no short-term memory amnesiac than this piece of sh-.
I am losing faith in what Netflix recommends me.

Nothing to do with this movie, but I just wanted to tell you I'm sure I'm not the only one impatiently waiting for your analysis about Jurassic World and its ton of plot holes, shallow characters and sexist content ;)