by ALEX CARNEVALE
Before I Go To Sleep
dir. Rowan Joffe
"I don't think I'm the kind of person who would cheat," Christine (Nicole Kidman) says in Before I Go To Sleep. "Do you?" Her therapist, Dr. Michael Nasch (Mark Strong) eyes her suspiciously, sort of like the way a reindeer eyes a sleigh.
Things are already out of sorts. Before I Go To Sleep is set near Greenwich, England, but Nicole Kidman does a weird approximation of a half-American accent for some reason. Christine wakes up every day remembering very little. "You think you're in your twenties," her husband (Colin Firth) tells her. "But you're forty. You're forty." He tells her this like eight more times as he mansplains who she is, and again when she's sitting on the toilet.
Christine's daily amnesia is supplemented by a video camera she keeps in her drawer, where an earlier version of herself does not want her to trust the husband man sleeping next to her - if he indeed is who he says.
In this new film from director Rowan Joffe, Kidman looks pretty good all things considered. (Marriage to Tom Cruise is the only thing I considered.) They shoot a lot of the movie in a car so as not to emphasize how much taller she is than the men around her. She has always seemed like the kind of person who needed be given lines to say anything.
When Christine starts having feelings for her therapist, she becomes worried that he may be the man who attacked her and caused the memory loss in the first place. He explains that transference is natural, but counter-transference means that he must recuse himself from her case. He does not mouth the words 'I love you' but it is implied that for some men, a woman who can easily forget their flaws is something of a virtue.
Strong is a fun performer to watch: no one seems as natural vacillating between various facial expressions. He doesn't fit a more reserved role of a psychologist falling in love with his patient because his Achilles heel is showing two things, vulnerability and erudition. On the plus side he is as subtle as a mace, which perfectly suits the events of Before I Go To Sleep.
Meanwhile, Christine's husband Ben (Firth) is perpetually rotating his head so we don't see the bad side of his face. He plays his part a bit upside down, since when he turns on Christine because she can't enjoy their relationship, it's way overdue. No one could stand being forgotten on a daily basis except Adam Sandler, and Christine is far from nice about the difficulties Firth faces in caring for an invalid. She has driven everyone in her life away, to the point where we wonder why she can't just pretend to remember for a little while.
It turns out that Christine is the kind of person who would cheat. The fact that she in any way caused her own amnesia is basically a gussied-up version of blaming the victim. Whatever life she idealizes instead of the one she has probably seems better because she lost it. (Tom Cruise wakes up each day not knowing who he is, get it?)
The concept that you should never allow yourself to be betrayed twice by the same person is an important principle of self-respect. The repeated shattering of her trust that Christine suffers almost renders her inert, but it is great fun to watch her survive by feeding off her own frenzy. Kidman's constant glancing everywhere is meant to portray her shaky emotional state, but at times she resembles a spectator at a ping-pong tourney. Her too-short hair, suggesting a recent cut, is always the first betrayal in her life. She does not look the way she feels.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.
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