Tell Me Who I Am (2019)
Any film or documentary that centres on identical twins and their relationship is fascinating in its own right, but if that film or documentary also involves the case of total amnesia, dark secrets and completely buried past, then it becomes one of the most interesting ever filmed (at least for me). Tell Me Who I Am is based on a memoir of the same name by twins Alex and Marcus Lewis, and Joanna Hodgkin, and tells the real story of Alex Lewis, who lost all his memories when he was involved in a motorcycle accident at the age of 18. From that age onwards, Alex had to rely on his identical twin brother Marcus to tell him everything – from how to tie his shoelaces and ride his bicycle to who he was and what were the relationships inside his family. As time passes in the story, however, Alex starts to doubt that Marcus tells him everything. Tell Me Who I Am is too brutal in its portrayal of the truth and distressing because of the subject matter, but it is also a fearless exploration of our reliance on memory that is always an important element dictating our sense of identity and our relationships with others. The documentary presents a powerful and often fragile relationship between two identical brothers torn apart by a dark family secret.
I love films that focus on twins (see my twins-related film list here), as well as like watching psychologically-curious documentaries that centre on both the nature of twinship and on justice (see my review of Three Identical Strangers (2018)). So, when I heard of Tell Me Who I Am from Paul at The Cinema Fix, I immediately knew it was going to be a documentary for me. Tell Me Who I Am can put to shame any thriller or even a “scary house” film in terms of its subject matter, and if one invented the course of events in Tell Me Who I Am, it would have been deemed too unbelievable and fictitious to film. In Tell Me Who I Am, Alex Lewis slowly wakes up from his coma in a hospital bed after his accident, and, from then on, his life is like of a newly-born thrusts into one haunted house full of memories. The only person that Alex could recognise from his old life is his identical brother and best friend Marcus, and there is something very touching and otherworldly in the fact that Alex forgot everything from his past life (even the faces of his mother and father), but he immediately recognised that one person who was as closest to him as any person could get to another being – his own twin. That is one of the aspects in the story that sheds light on the uniqueness of the bond that twins share, a special understanding that only people that form that twinship can truly know about.
The bond and friendship which Alex and Marcus shared seems very sincere in the story, and it is touching to see one twin helping the other to adjust to the world that is completely new to him. However, as Alex is (re)-introduced to his (new) home by Marcus, Alex may be starting to feel as though he is on the set of some suspenseful adult-themed horror film – with the character (him) waking up in a strange and richly-decorated mansion not remembering who he is or who people around him are and finding strangers behaving oddly, abnormal and confusing house rules and the fact that the only person who has all the answers is his complete look-alike. That is Alice in Wonderland directed by David Lynch right there, but that is exactly what happened to Alex in real life. He gets overwhelmed pretty soon by all the new information piled on him and tries to get to know the world through the TV and Marcus’s instructions. But, what if what Alex is being told by everyone is not the reality? Is there perhaps some dark secret that Alex is not being told? As viewers, we get the sense of something chilling coming our way and we will soon walk into some horrific realisations. We slowly start to sense that the only real difference between the brothers is that one wants to get to one thing as soon as possible and at whatever cost, and another wants to get away from that same thing as soon as possible and at whatever cost. The final confrontation between the brothers is heart-wrenching and powerfully-presented.
The most fascinating thing about Tell Me Who I Am is the fact that it is completely true, however unbelievable it may sound. Horrifying, but unforgettable, the documentary is the portrayal of the truth, naked and exposed for everyone to see, an intimate presentation of what life could look like stripped down to its most basic and horrific elements. Without any special effects or fancy music and editing, we have this powerful medium in Tell Me Who I Am simply by virtue of these two people presented, and talking about their life and ultimate quest to face reality.