A thirtysomething Brit Doug Bruce, who lives in New York, wakes up one morning on a subway train at Coney Island suffering from retrograde amnesia: he can't remember any aspect of his life up until that point. Skilfully directed by Doug's friend Rupert Murray, Unknown White Male is a fascinating documentary, which traces the process by which its subject learns about his "old" self, whilst adjusting to an invigorated everyday existence.
Although various experts suggest possible medical and psychological explanations for Doug's loss of memory, Unknown White Male is more concerned in grappling with the philosophical questions raised by the case. As Murray's voiceover inquires, "How much is our identity determined by experiences we already have? And how much is already there, the pure us?" What, in other words, remains of our personality if we're deprived of all our memories?
The strikingly handsome Doug turns out to be an ex-stockbroker turned photographer, with a beautiful downtown apartment and no shortage of female admirers. Blending the present and the past in the shape of Doug's own video diaries, old home movies and Orlando Stuart's expressive cinematography, Murray captures his protagonist's initial disorientation at his predicament and later his childlike glee at seeing the world from a fresh perspective, when introduced for the "first" time to the delights of chocolate, snow, fireworks and the ocean. Long-term friends and family meanwhile endure the pain of their shared connection being undermined: "The more I talked to him, the less I recognized the person in front of me," admits Murray. Prepare for a fictional remake - Guy Pearce would be perfect for the lead role...