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I am jaded.  I live in a culture where something is always being sold to me.  I believe the worst until I know better.  Irony is presumed long before sincerity.  I get magazines which are nothing more than elaborate advertisements for one product or a group of products.  I get instant messages that aren’t even from a real person, only a program pretending to be one.

Documentaries offer no relief from suspicion.  Granted they are presumed to be reality or at least one perspective on it.  And so when I begin to watch a documentary that is a personal story I often give it the benefit of the doubt.  But not this time.

A friend told me this film wasn’t really a documentary when I mention my intention to view it; how is that to start the seed of doubt?  Whether intentionally or not this film initially feeds that doubt.  I am questioning whether this is yet another attempt to shoot fiction in a documentary style.  Even the subtitle of the film A True Story, has my cultural radar going off.  Who needs to call their documentary true unless it is fake?  Who believes this Unknown White Male really has amnesia, that he really exists?

Unknown White Male starts with a confusing montage of images, apparently from a lifetime, appearing on the screen flashing at a rapid pace.  The music that accompanies it is chaotic, pulsing, and sketchy.  The story of a man who finds himself without a history is presented.  The narration can be followed, but somehow I still doubt it.

The images of the past that should be basic video footage are highly stylized.  His interviewed friends seem staged.  I doubt his inability to remember.  I start to consider how many signs I need before I realized this film is a hoax.

Only later do I realize that the filmmaker has put me in the same position of this Unknown White Male.  I doubt the truth I see; I am confused by friends of his I meet.  His relationship with his family doesn’t seem quite right.  All of this confusion is the same Doug feels; only he feels it with intensity for weeks and months.  He doesn’t have the years of history to anchor his relationships.  He is starting over.

Yes, this Unknown White Male has a name, Doug.  In the beginning Doug finds himself riding a New York City subway. He doesn’t know where he is or who he is.  Clues exist.  A woman’s name and phone number on a piece of paper.  His own illegible signature.  It is enough as he is quickly found by those who know him.

As Doug is found things are revealed about his life in clear and vibrant images.  The music calms, the story is just beginning, but clearly the feeling of complete chaos is over.

The film moves on to deal with issues of starting life over with relationships that are based on someone he doesn’t know and no longer is.  Being told that a person was part of your life before, that they were important to you, is not enough.  Relationships must be rebuilt and in some cases dismissed.

An appreciation of the memory you have is inevitable.

In the end the doubt I have about the story actually adds power to it.  Who questions one’s reality more than a person who was lost all sense of history?  I can never understand what amnesia is like, but I feel Doug’s progression so much more when I start with doubt and confusion.

Joshua Davis

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