Luke Hearfield offers his verdict on Before I Go to Sleep, starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong
Although you would have thought such an amalgam was never possible, the best comparison for Rowan Joffe’s Before I Go to Sleep is a dreary hybrid combination of 50 First Dates and Memento.
Based on SJ Watson’s worldwide best-seller, this gloomy thriller aims for a slick unravelling revelation but ultimately repeats a lot of the same material with very little progression.
Nicole Kidman stars as Christine Lucas, a 40-year-old woman who wakes up each day with no memory of the previous one. Her husband Ben (Colin Firth) explains on-a-loop each morning that “you store up information for a day, wake up, and it’s all gone”. Her mind is like an etch-a-sketch with each passing shake wiping the slate clean.
Of course, stories involving amnesia don’t just belong on Mexican soap operas any more; they’ve become a prime catalyst for gripping fiction such as the Bourne series and Mulholland Drive. While the source material is highly acclaimed, the film doesn’t quite entice the audience in the way it should.
Writer-director Joffe puts us in Christine’s position and leaves us just as puzzled as she is. All we have is the rehashed explanation provided by Ben and a collage of photographs to fill in the gaps of her past. But the prime question that the audience (and Christine) asks is – how did this all happen?
Ben claims the truth seems to be painful and complicated for her to know but her neurological doctor (Mark Strong) believes that the key to mending her mind lies in documenting the past without her husband knowing. Christine uncovers a video diary with a message to herself warning that she can’t trust her husband. The rest of the film involves watching Christine decipher choppy memories and obscure clues in order to understand what happened to her.
Roffe does a commendable job of shrouding audience suspicions with the prime supporting characters. Both Ben and Dr Nash dance around Christine with enough enigmas to keep the audience on their toes without becoming too obvious.
With an often cinereous background and harsh flashbacks, Roffe manages to capture the confusion of its central character. What’s lacking though is an engaging progression of Christine’s journey. Kidman does a fine job with the role, yet she plays a character so detached from emotional-investment that the audience isn’t really bothered by the outcome of her mystery. Her epiphanies don’t feel rewarding, just mere updates.
The script is also guilty of having dialogue which under the amnesiac-circumstances doesn’t make any sense. In one scene, Christine reveals to Dr Nash that “you’re the only one that makes me feel good” – having only ever spoken to him once on the phone how could she possibly come to this conclusion? It just feels clunky and illogical.
Before I Go to Sleep is a mildly stimulating story enhanced by its performances and subtextual mise-en-scene, but its lack of rewarding development renders the experience as quite sluggish. Really, the best word to describe it is forgetful – how fitting.