Before I Go to Sleep (Rowan Joffe, 2014)
Every morning Christine (Nicole Kidman) wakes up with no memory of the past twenty-odd years, as a result of an attack ten years earlier. We’ve seen anterograde amnesia used as a plot device before, in Christopher Nolan’s superb Memento, and in the lighter 50 First Dates. Despite having seen it before, it is still an alluring premise, and one which offers plenty of room for a good twist.
The film begins with a close-up of Nicole Kidman’s eye. Because we haven’t seen it fifty million times already, have we? I’M SO SICK OF NICOLE’S EYE! It’s also quite daft that they make Christine 40 in the film, when in S. J. Watson’s novel she was 47, Nicole Kidman’s REAL AGE. You’re 47, Nicole. Accept it. The rest of us have.
Christine is married to Ben (Colin Firth) who calmly explains to her each morning who she is. She cannot even remember him and does not know if he can be trusted. Unbeknownst to Ben, Christine has recently begun seeing psychiatrist Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong) who is helping her regain her memory. Piece by piece, the viewer learns what happened to Christine the fateful night of her attack, though our protagonist obviously has much greater difficulty putting the pieces together. She is aided by the use of a video diary which she watches every morning. One small issue is that it is unclear exactly how much she includes in each video and thus how much evidence she is able to keep. I also couldn’t help thinking that the more days that passed, the more time she would have to spend every day watching a video, to the point where she’d barely have time to figure anything else out. But never fear, we’re not meant to take it that literally. It is just a work of fiction after all. Though it does make you wonder about real sufferers of this condition.
There are many twists and turns throughout Before I Go to Sleep which keeps it exciting, but by the last act it all gets a bit ridiculous and nauseatingly graphic. We know from the start that Christine was brutally attacked by a man, but that doesn’t make it any less disturbing to finally see the devastating violence inflicted on her as a woman. I even felt the sting of the first slap. And it gets way worse than that. Sick, sick, sick. What’s worse is to think this actually happens all too frequently in the real world. It is not by any means a misogynistic film, but it is confronting to see such violence against women.
Despite my misgivings, I certainly can’t accuse Before I Go to Sleep of being dull. The plot twists come thick and fast and the suspense builds every minute. Kidman, Firth and Strong all put in admirable performances, even if seeing shots of Nicole’s eyeballs makes me want to stab out my own. If low grade thrillers are your guilty pleasure, you may well derive enjoyment from this one.