It's unfathomable --- imagine waking up every single day and not knowing who you are. It's called psychogenic amnesia, and Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman) suffers from it as a result of an automobile accident --- or so her husband, Ben (Colin Firth), tells her.
Ben must arise each morning and explain Christine's circumstances to her. He has posted photos all over the bathroom wall of their 14 years together as a married couple in an effort to provide her some background. But after he leaves for work, she gets a phone call from a neuro-psychologist, Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong), who informs her that they have been working together to recover her memory.
Dr. Nasch has bought Christine a digital camera with which she can record her thoughts and feelings from throughout the day --- before she retires for the night. Because once she sleeps, she forgets everything, and must begin anew again in the morning. Dr. Nasch doesn't want her to tell Ben about their collaboration, and she learns from the good doctor that her head trauma, which caused her amnesia, was no accident.
Psychological thrillers are tough to pull off. Writer/director Rowan Joffe managed to get his hands on an advance copy of the novel "Before I Go To Sleep" by S. J. Watson, and was compelled to make the film version. Having never read the book, it's difficult to assess where Joffe went wrong.
The screenplay is very suspenseful in parts, but that tension doesn't hold up throughout. Though Kidman, Firth and Strong are all substantial, accomplished actors with multiple awards to each of their names, if the writing is lacking, the actors themselves cannot change the outcome of the film.
Joffe lets the repetition of Christine's affliction become tedious. Instead of allowing the audience to grasp her situation immediately --- and briefly --- the build-up to the pay-off is too arduous and overdrawn. Thus the emotional impact of the ending is diminished.
Kidman and Firth are really good together, but I enjoyed their pairing much better in "The Railway Man" which was out earlier this year. Here their chemistry seems off, but again, this is simply a result of the script.
"Before I Go To Sleep" holds the promise of a more entertaining film, especially with Joffe's cast. Unfortunately, his adaptation doesn't deliver.
Opinion: Wait for DVD
Christine Lucas awakens every day with no recall of what she experienced the day before, without knowing who she is, or any other aspect of her life. She surmises she's married to Ben Lucas, only because there are photos of Ben and herself on the walls of their home showing them in wedding attire. Every day Ben explains that she is a victim of a terrible car accident that has robbed her of her memory, and he proceeds to tell her the same things he has told her before.
Based on a best-selling novel, "Before I Go To Sleep" does not break any new ground as far as amnesia cases go. It bears comparisons to the Guy Pearce thriller "Memento", where his character writes everything down so he can function on a daily basis. Christine (Nicole Kidman) records her day's experiences on a digital camera at the behest of her neuro-psychologist, Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong), and without the knowledge of Ben (Colin Firth). Every day, Dr. Nasch calls to remind her where she hid the camera, and to watch what she recorded the previous night.
Christine's condition is called psychogenic amnesia, and in the capable hands of Kidman, the audience can identify with her, to a point. It's a truly sad affliction, obviously extremely rare, and Kidman earns our sympathy immediately.
Similarly, Firth is very convincing as the long-suffering spouse, sometimes driven by a husband's sexual desire, but constraining himself because his wife doesn't know who he is. Her confusion is matched by his frustration. A meeting with Claire (Anne-Marie Duff), a friend from Christine's past, is the movie's turning point, and it is here that Christine begins to piece together some aspects of her life.
Screenwriter/director Rowan Joffe has adapted a reasonably effective mystery that creates doubts --- who can Christine really trust? --- and includes the story's major twist. Still, "Before I Go To Sleep" lacks the chilling punch of an earlier Kidman vehicle, "The Others". That film featured a truly spine-tingling finale.
This movie reunites Kidman and Firth --- they appeared together earlier this year in "The Railway Man" --- and they are set to make another film together next year called "Genius".
Opinion: Wait for DVD