We haven’t seen Rupert Murray‘s "Unknown White Male," a doc about his friend, Doug Bruce, a 30-something British former stockbroker who, the film details, woke up on the F train near Coney Island with no memory of who he was, but honestly, we can’t imagine the film is more interesting than the odd controversy it’s generated. Mockumentary or not? The filmmakers have cited "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" when describing "Unknown White Male," and Michel Gondry has responded by telling GQ last week that he thinks the film’s a fake.
Well, yes, you say, but since when is Gondry, wicked cool music videos aside, a medical expert?
In his reports on the scandal so far, Dan Glaister in the Guardian lists, among other things, the fact that HBO "cooled on its interest in screening the film after its initial research deemed the film to be ‘less than credible.’" Roger Ebert is inspired to carry out his own investigation, first scouring Lexis-Nexis and failing to find any reports on the original incident, then taking his questions straight to director Murray and his executive producer, Jess Search, who make a convincing argument, and would have to either be extremely committed to their hoax and fascinating ruthless to say some of the things they do:
"I would never compromise my reputation by being party to a hoax," says Jess Search. "I worked five years as commissioning editor at Channel 4 in the UK. I set up the British Documentary Film Foundation. I am the organizer of the new British documentary festival. I am 100 percent behind this film." Murray adds: "The hoax issue clouds people’s judgment. The film is so fascinating as a story of memory and identity that it would be a shame if it were discounted. The publicity may be great for the film, but it’s not so great for Doug, after what heâ€™s been through."
But oddest of all is the visit the New Yorker‘s Tad Friend pays on Bruce â€” Bruce, who hasn’t regained his memory back yet, and who approaches life with wide-eyed, verging-on-twee fascination:
"Since the accident, I feel a childlikeâ€”or what I imagine to be a childlikeâ€”wonder at new experiences, but also an analytical understanding," he said. "When I first held snow, it was about both the feeling of the crystals in my hand and my understanding of the molecular structure." He laughed, and toyed with the silver butterfly-wing charm around his neck, a gift from his girlfriend of nearly two years, Narelle. "And I feel very privileged to have experienced, as an adult, falling in love for the first time, the way a teen-ager probably would."
Could he possibly be real? Are we just too cynical to buy it? To be honest, we could care less about whether the film’s a fake or not from an integrity perspective â€” though there’s something very off-putting about the idea of this being a publicity stunt or something vaguely in the realm of performance art â€” but we’re fascinated by the idea that someone would counterfeit a doc on this subject. If it is a mockumentary, it’s far less an attempt at humor than the most melancholy, cinema-informed wish fulfillment: in drifting near-middle-age, one could lightly slip off one’s mental trappings and set about literally rediscovering life.