The debate surrounding the Documentary Unknown White Male is an intriguing one. Is this the real story of Doug Bruce a successful stock broker who one day woke up not knowing who he was? Filmmaker Rupert Murray has an intriguing subject and premise that would make for a good fictional film, which some believe this documentary to be.
We find out about Doug’s history and past as he does. What do we discover? That Bruce was a wealthy and successful New York stock broker who was born to an upper class family in England. His friends thought of him as someone who had a penchant for fast living and being generous with his money, as well as being slightly arrogant.
Due to his amnesia most of these character traits are no longer there, replaced by a man who is more introspective, less jaded and experiences everything for the first time, he now marvels at seeing fireworks or the ocean for the first time. He’s nervous meeting his father for the “first” time in 32 years.
As he meets his former friends he feels a strange sense of disconnect from them and guilty that he no longer has a connection with them. But did he ever really have as close a relationship to these people as they believe he did? One gets the feeling the answer is no. The old Doug seen in graining home video comes across as being detached from his surroundings, always looking for something and someone else. So perhaps his amnesia is a good chance for him to start a new life.
One of his friends comes out and says that Doug seems happy that he lost his memory that he’s able to decide which parts of his former life he wants to discard and which parts he wants to reintegrate. Another friend actually seems jealous that Doug gets to do this.
There are a few nice moments, like when he meets his godson for the first time or his reaction to a home movie that features himself and the director of the film.
Murray’s narration is awfully dry and emotionless. I don’t expect histrionics from Doug, his friends, girlfriend and family. But I want to see some emotion other than, “Doug, lost his memory, it was a little awkward.”
It would be nice to know if all of this was real or not. There are arguments that can be made for both sides, but at the end of the day I’d like to say it doesn’t matter, but labeling does matter and people are too dismissive when folks say Memoirs don’t have to be true or not. I’m going to take the filmmakers at their word and believe that this is a 100 percent true story.
As a true story, Unknown White Male is a sometimes interesting journey into Doug’s psyche. As a debate about whether our memories is what makes us who we are, the film is an interesting treatise on the subject, but it’s annoying strong lack of point of view leaves you feeling hollow and strangely cold. Everything about this documentary is low key, from its amateurish directorial style, to the boring monotone of everyone involved. It’s a missed opportunity.
Despite the fact that Doug has amnesia, there’s nothing really interesting about the guy or his friends that justifies spending 90 minutes with him. He lost his cynicism and his arrogance, wow.
Final Grade C-
EM Review by
Originally Posted 3/27/06