Not rated, but the documentary, while not showing anything, gets extremely uncomfortable with its revelation of what really happened. I would write about it, but I think being that spoilery in the MPAA section might be a bit far, even for me. After all, sometimes the MPAA section shows up in people's previews. Regardless, this isn't an easy to watch documentary due to some intense content. Not rated.
DIRECTOR: Ed Perkins
Why don't I want to write anymore? The very thought of writing a tank about this documentary seems burdensome to be. There's stuff to talk about. There's stuff I want to talk about. But everything in my body says, "Nah, don't write this." I think it's my foray into video games. That endorphin rush is constantly being fulfilled. But now my head hurts and I want to get this done in 45 minutes, so let's do this.
Tell Me Who I Am almost reads like a philosophical challenge in the form of a documentary. People could bicker all day and night whether or not this movie is great or not. I don't think it comes down to that. Tell Me Who I Am is almost like a really R-rated Twilight Zone morality play. The central debate is the fact that you can't put Pandora back in the box. It is almost unprecedented how this whole thing worked out. The fact that they are twins who were raised in the same house, as cold as this is, means that the story has a variable and a control. One twin has forgotten everything except for the name of his brother. I don't know how that works. But that means that the variable is Alex, the child who remembered nothing. If the experiment was asking about nature versus nurture, then Alex would be the variable. (We could easily invert this experiment to make Marcus the variable, questioning whether or not it is a moral decision to let Alex in on the secret.) But it is almost impossible that this actually existed. That's maybe an unfair statement because the very Matrix code of the movie is that this happens all too casually. But I want to give people a real life hypothetical, I would turn to Tell Me Who I Am as evidence that sometimes we need to think about consequences and of no-win scenarios.
I completely sympathize with both of them. Neither one of the brothers is the bad guy in this story. I can't imagine being Alex. Everything is gone and every element of information coming my way is welcome normality. But at the end of the day, I feel for Marcus. From Alex's point of view, there is little morally at stake. He feels robbed that his brother is keeping secrets from him, but he is not presented with a moral choice outside of how much he might be torturing his brother. But I don't think he ever really makes that connection that he is torturing his brother. From his perspective, he is confused. The majority of his life has been post-accident. Even if he was 18 years behind everyone else, he still is a grown man. But he has defined himself by his accident. Other people don't have the problem that accompanied him with the accident, so there is no sense of normal. But Marcus is fully formed. He has this moral obligation. He knows that keeping the secret is lying to his brother. His brother trusts him not to lie, but he has to lie to protect his brother. It's so complicated. The more his brother asks for details, the more the moral obligation is thrust upon him. When Marcus finally reveals the truth about the boys' childhood, Alex reveals that he guessed a lot of what his brother had said. That's a heck of a thing. Marcus is in this weird position where he just wants to shake Alex and beg him to stop asking.
Tell Me Who I Am is kind of an example of love. I know. Love isn't supposed to involve actively sinning against someone else. But I can think of my wife. Would I do anything to ensure that my wife never knew a moment of pain? Would I do the same for my children? I'd like to think so. The fact that Marcus is out in the world and walking upright is a miracle. He shouldn't be able to form healthy relationships. The boys are twins. Look at how much older Marcus looks than his brother. His brother, despite the fact that his main stress in life is not knowing what is true and what is made up, looks far more carefree. Alex's trauma is akin to what most people probably feel in the world. A person he loves has betrayed him and broken his trust. On paper, that sounds really dramatic. In reality, everyone has broken our heart at one point or another. Alex lives in a world where his demons are relatable and commonplace, despite having amnesia. Marcus has to live every day with a demon that is so outrageous that he feels the need protect those he loves from that demon. That's insane. I'm not trying to downplay Alex's trauma. He's got something real there and I can't imagine what that is like. But just the way that the boys carry themselves kind of says a lot about the nature of mental scarring. I'll just say it. I would do exactly what Marcus did. I wouldn't tell Alex. It's a punishment to him to know these things.
Telling Alex wouldn't undo the trauma of the accident. It would cinematically bring his memory back. What it would do is give a boy with physical trauma experiences that would only compound the accident. It's not like Marcus was being selfish. Maybe, to some extent, it was selfish. Marcus was able to move past the trauma through his fiction. He also allowed Alex to become dependent on him. But these were unintended repercussions to something that probably wasn't his intent. He's trying to protect his brother.
The thing that bugs me about the whole thing with the secret is just how prevalent this kind of disgusting behavior must be. I'm really ignorant. The other day, I saw a meme that said that when you turn 30, you find out that 85% of people have tried cocaine. With my stupid confirmation bias, I thought "That's impossible. I don't do cocaine and my wife doesn't do cocaine. Thus, no one does cocaine." I don't know it is is the people I roll with, but that just seemed off. When the movie reveals that the mother of these two boys basically traded them around as sexual favors for England's aristocracy, that seemed impossible. There's a thing that I always think of when multiple people are involved in a terrible crime. I wonder, "How does one broach that subject?" How do you know that asking something criminal to someone else isn't going to instantly come back and destroy you? I probably have written the following sentence on this blog before, but I always like to think that the world is a good place with a few bad people in it. But living in the world of Tell Me Who I Am, apparently the world is a horrible place where two boys can be sexually assaulted for years by packs of strangers and that's just normal. The biggest criticism I can give Marcus is the knowledge that Alex should never have been hanging out with his mother after all of these things came to light. What is even more mind-boggling is Marcus's treatment of his father. The documentary states that it was probably likely that the twins' father didn't know about the ring of sexual debauchery, yet Marcus hated him more than his mother. I don't understand that. I also don't understand how Marcus's mother told everyone but Marcus's father.
I don't know why Tell Me Who I Am didn't make a bigger impact on me. It should have. It is a painful documentary to watch at times, but it sometimes just washed over me after it was done. I think the production value probably had something to do with it. The documentary is extremely intimate. Really, it is just composed of the two talking heads and little else. We get some small reenactments. It is all very artfully done. There's a shot that keeps repeating that I didn't understand until the big reveal happened. But because the movie limits the scope to these two testimonies, it feels like a very small movie. I hate saying this because a lot of this reaction comes from me, but Tell Me Who I Am has a lot of Netflix-original problems. It seems less valid because I didn't pay to see it. I know, that's unfair. But it is how I feel. Regardless, the directors didn't do anything wrong, so much as it is the responsibility of the viewer to distance from preconceived notions.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.