Confounded doctors admit that they’ve only seen it in movies and textbooks. But in this documentary a mystery, perhaps the ultimate mystery occurs.
A healthy and successful young man wakes up on a train to Coney Island to discover – nothing. He has no idea who he is and nothing to indicate his name or address. He has completely lost his “episodic memory,” all of the details of his own personal experience – relationships, education, work, his own subjective reactions to the world. He retains the basics of his “semantic memory,” enough to let him conclude that the place to go for help is a police station. But everything else is just…gone.
And so, he goes from discovering an almost endless nothing to discovering an infinite everything. Like a visitor from another planet, he is an adult man for whom everything he sees is brand new. His family and friends are reassuring but also confusing – is he still the man they say they cared about if he cannot remember any of the shared experiences they describe? The wonders the rest of us take a little bit for granted, from the ocean to chocolate mousse, come to him pure and undiluted.
After a few days of detective work, he learns his name: Doug Bruce. But after months of medical tests and trying to remember the people and places everyone tells him were once part of his life, he still does not know who Doug Bruce is. Or, he does know who Doug Bruce is. He just doesn’t know who he was.
This documentary takes us on the journey with Doug, the man who lost his memory. Director Rupert Murray was a close friend of Doug’s before he lost his memory. His movie is not just the story of Doug’s journey to finding himself but a meditation on the nature of identity, memory, and connection.
Parents should know that this movie has some strong language and disturbing themes.
Families who see this movie should talk about their most important memories and what they can do to preserve them.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy some of the famous fictional depictions of memory loss, especially Random Harvest and I Love You Again. They may also enjoy my interview with the director.