Remember Memento? How about 50 First Dates? Exploring the topic of repeated memory loss has been done before in feature films, but Before I Go to Sleep is the first of the lot to actually make the audience wish they’d suffered from the same ailment as the main character after sitting through a screening. Before I Go to Sleep leaves you longing for short term memory loss to wipe away the 90 minutes spent watching an R-rated clunker that’s a violent, brutal, and illogical mess, not to mention a complete waste of decent performances by its A-list cast.
If you can make it through the film without nodding off, consider yourself lucky (or over-caffeinated). Adapted from S.J. Watson’s novel by writer/director Roland Joffe, the story is a loosy-goosy, “let’s not follow any rules and what the heck, let’s just throw out all of the events leading up to the last half hour as if they didn’t exist” sort of drama. Before I Go to Sleep is the type of film you walk away from shaking your head wondering why you stuck it out to the end. Then you realize you couldn’t leave early because you held out hope the film would redeem itself in those final minutes, which of course it doesn’t. Plus, the combo of Mark Strong and Colin Firth working against type…or maybe not or maybe they are…forced you into sticking it out to the bitter end.
The story revolves around Christine (Nicole Kidman) who wakes up every morning next to a man she doesn’t know (Colin Firth). Apparently she was in an accident years earlier which left her with the inability to create new memories and her thoughtful hubby, Ben, has been filling in her missing memories every morning via photos and post-it notes. She wakes up freaked out, spends the day trying to figure out who she is and how she got in this state, eats dinner with her school teacher husband, and then falls asleep. Sleep, wake, freak out, understand, go back to sleep, forget everything, and repeat. Day after day, month after month, year after year. But then into her life comes Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong), a neuro-psychologist who calls her each morning and has her convinced her husband is keeping secrets from her and hasn’t even told the true story about how she came to suffer from dissociative amnesia. Ben says it was a car crash while Dr. Nasch tells her the truth: she was savagely beaten and left for dead, naked in an industrial park near an airport. Why would Ben lie about this detail if he wasn’t somehow involved? And why does he continue to withhold key facts about her life before the accident?
Ben says he loves and cherishes her, and the fact he’s stuck around to repeat her story every day for years places a check mark in the “He’s a good guy and you should believe him” box. But Dr. Nasch is very convincing, urging her to try and recall the truth of what happened that fateful night and to secretly record what she finds out each day on a camera hidden away from Ben. What’s an amnesiac to do?
Of course I won’t give away who did what to whom, but suffice it to say the contrived third act is mind-bogglingly ridiculous. It treats the audience like idiots, wasting a compelling premise and fine performances with a wrap-up that feels like it took an entire day in the theater to get to but in actuality was only 90 minutes from the first frame. A death march would outrace the pace of Before I Go to Sleep, and for some reason writer/director Joffe is unable to make the lead character, Christine, the least bit sympathetic. Because we don’t care or relate to this woman who should evoke a protective response, the film flounders without a much-needed emotional attachment to hold onto. Plus, there’s the added bonus of Kidman’s Christine seeming to have forgotten the reason why people don’t go walking willy nilly into a busy street. Why the repeated scenes of Christine nearly being hit by cars? It’s not to throw off the audience as the accidents would be her fault since she forgot to look both ways before walking out into a street.
This isn’t Memento, though you’d be excused for believing it was loosely based on that critically acclaimed film. It’s not even as entertaining as the Drew Barrymore/Adam Sandler romantic comedy also about a woman who goes to bed each night with memories and wakes up each morning starting over from scratch. What Before I Go to Sleep is is a good cure for insomnia, and it’s not good for much else.
Before I Go to Sleep is rated R for some brutal violence and language.
-By Rebecca Murray
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