Unknown White Male

Director: Rupert Murray

“How much is our identity determined by the experiences we have? And how much is already there? Pure us?” These questions are asked by British documentary filmmaker Rupert Murray near the beginning of his haunting existential and controversial work about an old friend named Doug Bruce who woke up on a subway heading towards Coney Island in the summer of 2003 with absolutely no memory of who he was or how he’d come to be there. Piecing together the mystery, the film includes first person accounts by Doug Bruce as well as some of Bruce’s actual entries in the video diary he began keeping following his release from a psychiatric ward in a Coney Island Hospital where he was tagged “unknown white male” until he could be identified after the police, completely baffled brought the man in for medical evaluation. We learn that the thirty-something, attractive and intelligent Bruce is a former stock broker who left the occupation after amassing a small fortune and now spends his time devoted to his new hobby of photography by attending the university. As we watch interviews and reactions of family and friends who share their experience and back-history with the man in question we, along with those filmed including Murray who’d known Bruce for fifteen years beginning with when he resided in London, struggle with Bruce’s fierce opposition to trying to retrieve his old memories or ply others with questions, seemingly content with starting from scratch. It’s this stubborn complacency along with Murray’s lack of footage of medical professionals analyzing the admittedly rare condition without a viable root cause as well as his neglect of asking Bruce any tough questions that has frustrated viewers and critics alike who in some critical responses questioned the honesty and validity of not only the film but Bruce’s situation itself. “Is Mr. Bruce a bored rich guy whose interest in art resulted in a devilishly clever conceptual prank?” the New York Times asked in their review and although there is a medical twist near the end that, at least for me, helped prove that this could indeed be real, you are left puzzled by the lack of investigation. Still, it’s a fascinatingly disturbing and riveting piece of cinema that will stay with you and was nominated for a few independent and documentary accolades including the World Cinema Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.