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Shiona Penrake writes: If you’ve read my analysis on David Fincher’s ‘Gone Girl’, then you’ll probably know what I’m going to say about Rowan Joffe’s ‘Before I Go To Sleep’… but anyway…

Before I Go To Sleep_Kidman_Eye

Scary memories, scary men

Once again, we have a film that is based on a woman in jeopardy novel; this one is written by a British male writer called S.J Watson. Christine (Nicole Kidman) suffers from severe anterograde amnesia due to an “accident”, and has to be reminded of who her husband (Colin Firth) is every single morning. She meets a doctor (Mark Strong) who reminds her every morning to use her camera as a diary to reconstruct her memories.

As the film progresses she recalls and works out new information about herself; she finds out that she has a son, a best friend called Claire (Anne-Marie Duff), and that her that her “accident” was actually an attempt on her life by a boyfriend, who attacked her and left her for dead, then changed his mind and took her home to pose as her husband.

A clever concept that doesn’t quite stack up

40-year old Christine has no useful memory of her past after the event that damaged her memory, so she must check the diary she keeps and believe the words of the man who lives with her in order to make sense of her existence.  Even if this were scientifically feasible, how is it that the rest of the world has forgotten about her?

Nice, clean Colin becomes crazy sociopath. Really?!

Colin Firth as dubious husband in Before I Go To Sleep

Colin Firth as dubious husband in Before I Go To Sleep

It makes me cringe to see Colin Firth as this crazy, clingy sociopath. Hollywood thinks we’ll be surprised to discover such a squeaky clean actor revealed as a sociopath or murderer – but this is exactly what we’re expecting! Colin is just too academic and sensible to be a highly controlling narcissist. He might have a temper as he shows in ‘The King’s Speech’ but it’s not the murderous kind. It’s hard to believe that someone like Colin Firth would brutally attack his girlfriend because she wouldn’t reveal the affair to her husband.

Also his character is such a mix of craftiness and complete stupidity they don’t add up to a character we can take seriously:

  • He dumps Christine’s bloody body near an airport hotel in PLAIN VIEW. No concern for CCTV, or being spotted by witnesses.
  • “Ben” later picks Christine up from the hospital, pretending to be her husband, and expects the doctors to believe this. No security? No request for ID?
  • There seems to be no follow-up by police checking on the fake Ben’s background.
  • It seems “Ben” expects Christine to remain at home all day while he goes out to work. Has it never dawned on him that she might go off and find out more about herself? Or get in contact with her family and friends again? It’s easy for him to separate Christine and Claire, but what about her parents, her brothers or sisters? It’s impossible for “Ben” to completely isolate Christine from society, unless he were to lock her up in the house.
  • He takes her to the same airport hotel where he attacked her 10 years ago for an “anniversary”. Why? To jog her memory so she remembers him attacking her? Duh.
  • After revealing the truth, “Ben” wants Christine to move on from the real Ben and her son and love him as Mike. What, after he struck her, raped her, and left her for dead 10 years ago?

A Strong presence but not much of a hero

Mark Strong in Before I Go To Sleep

Mark Strong in Before I Go To Sleep

Mark Strong’s character Dr Nasch is the most likeable of the main characters. His character is very similar to John Washington’s in the movie ‘Anna’. It’s a shame we don’t see much of him. He’s never properly involved with Christine and “Ben” – he only guides Christine in her journey toward finding the truth.

As a man with an analytical mind, he shouldn’t he have identified Christine’s kin, friends and lovers. His job is to help reconstruct Christine’s memories so he should know her family members’ faces.

He would have known by then that the man who came up to him and told him to stay the fuck away from his wife is not Ben, due to his appearance. He could then have taken steps to intervene and rescue Christine.

Why must ‘woman in jeopardy’ movies be so melodramatic?

‘Before I Go To Sleep’ is such a paper-thin mystery. We all know it’s the ‘husband’, even though the story offers another likely suspect. If you bore this story down to its essence, it’s basically saying that women shouldn’t trust their husbands or lovers. And to add drama, the story has a helpless woman as a protagonist.

I’m not surprised that Joffe cast Nicole Kidman in this role. I saw her looking paranoid in ‘The Others’. But it’s becoming tiring. Haven’t we moved on from identifying these sorts of women? These days, we love strong female characters like Katniss Everdeen from ‘The Hunger Games’. What’s the social therapeutic value of this kind of woman in ‘Before I Go To Sleep’?

In the newspapers, we read columns that demand strong women. But here we are in 2014, watching a film that depicts the female protagonist as helpless as a woman from a 1960s Hitchcock thriller. What I find curious is that most of the readers of that kind of fiction are female. Why is it that female readers, who demand equality and more opportunities for women, want to read a novel that shows a woman as a victim of a predatory man? With two films in one year riding on the same topic, we seems to have hit on some sort of mental split between 21st century aspiration and traditional values of the woman as housewife and sex object.

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