The Forgotten

(Joseph Ruben, USA, 2004)


The best part of watching great television series of the ’90s like Twin Peaks and The X-Files, the first time they appeared, was being suspended right in the middle of a vast, unfolding narrative.

These shows dizzily multiplied possible explanations for bizarre events – and it was this very multiplicity that both sparked our imaginations and evoked a seemingly limitless, very modern form of dread.

But it is almost always a disappointment when such a sprawling plot has to end, settling on one explanation over all others. And so it is with Joseph Ruben’s The Forgotten, which squanders the promise of its first half in its second half.

The premise is certainly striking, and completely in tune with a contemporaneous wave of movies (including Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2004 and Paycheck, 2004) that ponder the mysteries of memory, trauma and identity.

Telly (Julianne Moore) cannot cease grieving for her son, Sam (Christopher Kovaleski), who died with other children in a tragic plane accident.

But Telly’s sorrow tips into hysteria when everyone, including her husband (Anthony Edwards) and psychiatrist (Gary Sinise), begins telling her that Sam never existed, that he is merely a figment of her imagination. (This idea reappears in the Jodie Foster vehicle Flightplan, 2005.) Only another troubled parent, Ash (Dominic West), seems half-willing to believe her.

As is common in such tales these days, there seem to be at least three possible explanations for what is going on.

Firstly, there are hints of a sinister governmental conspiracy. Secondly, there are intimations of some Higher Force – supernatural, alien or divine – at work. And thirdly, at a stretch, it could all be in Telly’s head, an elaborate fantasy compensating for some unspeakable hurt.

Alas, a fourth, political possibility – that would exploit the resonance between the forgotten of this story and the various "disappeared" or "stolen" peoples of twentieth century world history – is ignored.

Scripted by Gerald Di Pego, a specialist in eerie stories with a gooey coating of New Age wisdom (Phenomenon, 1996, Angel Eyes, 2001), The Forgotten becomes rather banal once it settles on a single explanation. It also breaks down on a logical level, since much of what we have previously seen does not quite fit within the terms of this revelation.

Only some genuinely mind-blowing moments of shock keep the audience interested.

The Forgotten plays like a middlebrow, grown-up version of The Butterfly Effect (2004). The acting is better and the atmosphere more carefully built up in the former, but I prefer the juvenile, scattershot, B movie approach of the latter.

At least a messy film leaves a few of its tantalising threads still dangling at the end.

MORE Ruben: The Stepfather, The Good Son

© Adrian Martin November 2004

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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