Skip to main content

Unknown White Male

What if you could reboot your life? Just forget everything you know, everyone you know and start fresh, would you do it? So much of who we are is tied up into what we've done and who we know that it would be hard to image our lives with out having those memories there to shape and comfort us. When 35-year-old Doug Bruce awoke on the morning of July 3, 2003 on a subway bound for Coney Island, he no longer knew who he was or where he had come from. Doug suffers from a very rare form of retrograde amnesia. His entire personal memory had been wiped clean but his skill-based memory was still intact. He could write his name but he could not remember it.

Bruce was left a blank slate when he stepped off that subway near Coney Island with nothing more than the clothes he had on and a backpack filled with various items. He gets checked into a psych ward and is kept until he can find someone to claim him. All he has is a phone number to a woman that may or may not know him. The whole concept sounds like the latest Jerry Bruckheimer film. If someone had told you this was the plot to an upcoming blockbuster, you would just roll your eyes and think 'there is no way this could happen outside of a bad soap opera.' Eventually he is claimed and is told his name is Doug Bruce by a woman he dated only a few times. It's heartbreaking to watch him break down and exclaim, 'Look, I'm somebody!'

Unknown White Male is a documentary that follows Doug for two years as he discovers his old life and creates a new one. Fortunately for Doug, he was born into a somewhat privileged life. It turns out that Doug made a small fortune as a stockbroker, retired at the age of 30 and is training to be a photographer. His father and his youngest sister live in Spain and his friends all live in England. An old friend named Rupert Murray documents Doug's life as he moves into his new existence like a newborn seeing the world for the first time. As a director Murray has done a tremendous job of capturing Doug's isolation and crafted a profound documentary that makes you wonder what you would do in the same situation.

As the film progresses, we learn that the old Doug was a brash, outgoing, and fearless Brit who had moved to New York's Lower East Side. Now a New Yorker instead of a Brit, Doug is introspective, more sensitive, and acutely aware of the world around him. Murray relies heavily on Doug's video journals as he is reintroduced to friends, family, girlfriends and the sights and sounds of Manhattan all the while wondering if at any minute everything will come flooding back. By the end of two years, Doug has accepted his new life and moved on, but still wonders what would happen if his old memories suddenly one day open. Who would that person be? Not the new Doug or the old Doug but some entirely new individual.

Murray tries his best to remain objective throughout the film, even when he talks about his first meeting with Doug. He lets you see how conflicted Doug's friends and family are, because the person they knew isn't there any more and a stranger stands in his place. Through Doug we see how fragile a person's world and perception of self can be. Now, if you could reboot your life would you?