Director : Joseph Ruben
Screenplay : Gerald Di Pego
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2004
Stars : Julianne Moore (Telly Paretta), Dominic West (Ash Correll), Gary Sinise (Dr. Jack Munce), Anthony Edwards (Jim Paretta), Alfre Woodard (Det. Anne Pope), Linus Roache (A Friendly Man), Jessica Hecht (Eliot), Christopher Kovaleski (Sam), Robert Wisdom (Carl Dayton), Tim Kang (Alec Wong),
In The Forgotten, Julianne Moore stars as Telly Paretta, a woman who lost her 9-year-old son Sam in a plane crash 14 months earlier, but has been unable to let go of her grief. She ritualistically goes into her dead son's room every day, laying out his belongings on top of his dresser and looking through photo albums. She doesn't know why she's can't let go and get on with her life, especially since her husband, Jim (Anthony Edwards), seems to have accepted it.
So, you can only imagine Telly's surprise when she is told by her psychiatrist, Dr. Munce (Gary Sinise), that she never had a child. All her memories of Sam are mental fabrications unconsciously constructed to deal with a miscarriage. Telly, however, refuses to believe that her son is a dream, even when everyone she knows, from her husband, to her next-door neighbor, tell her that she never had a son. Picture of him disappear and she can no longer find stories about the plan crash in the newspaper. How could this happen? If it's some kind of conspiracy against her to force her to forget her son, it would have to be so vast as to be utterly unbelievable.
At this point, The Forgotten plays like a melodramatic episode of The Twilight Zone, and its "Is she or isn't she insane?" dynamic recalls Rosemary's Baby (1968) in the way it forces us to identify with someone who may not have a grip on reality. Yet, Telly is so determined, so utterly sure of herself even in the face of the entire world, that it becomes hard to imagine that she is anything but utterly and completely right. The question, then, becomes not whether or not she's crazy, but how everyone in her life has suddenly been aligned against her to make her think she is.
Telly's only ally is an alcoholic ex-hockey player named Ash (Dominic West) who had a daughter who also died in the plane crash. At first, Ash denies that he ever had a daughter, but once Telly persists and convinces him to say her name aloud, memories he didn't think he had come flooding back. Ash becomes just as determined to discover what's happening, although his motivation differs from Telly's. Rather than being fueled by a driving desire to prove he's right, he's driven by the shame of having forgotten that he had a daughter at all.
About halfway through the film, a major shift occurs, and The Forgotten moves directly and unexpectedly into X-Files territory. The shift is jarring, especially if you have no idea where it's headed, and the thrust of Gerald Di Pego's script appears to be keeping the possibilities so wide open that anything-literally anything-could happen. The answer to the big question is surprising, yet oddly fitting, and we realize that what we've been watching is a standard genre movie viewed from a different angle. That is, The Forgotten could have been told from another point of view and been a fairly standard, run-of-the-mill science fiction thriller, but by twisting the viewpoint and focusing on one befuddled character, Di Pego makes the story much more intimate, which allows his theme of the power of the parent-child bond to emerge more naturally than it might have otherwise. Di Pego's scripts, including Phenomenon (1996) and Angel Eyes (2001), have a penchant for getting at gooey sentiment through the fantastical (or at least the suggestion of the fantastical), and The Forgotten is right in line.
Director Joseph Ruben (Dreamscape, The Good Son) handles the film's stylistics well, although there's nothing particularly new here. His penchant for extreme high-angle shots looking down on the action actually has a purpose here, which is only revealed in the film's second half. He gets good performances from his actors, although Moore's persistent exasperation becomes a bit tiresome after a while and West's grizzled sarcasm sometimes feels more like forced comic relief than the natural reactions of a character under stress. The film deploys only a few special effects, but they are well placed and extremely effective in not only their immediate shock value, but in the lingering sense of astonishment you're left with.
Unfortunately, not all of the pieces of Di Pego's script come together. There are too many plot holes that he barely covers over, and while the films ends on a poignant shot that makes it feel as if all is right with the world, even a casual consideration of all the characters reveals that there are huge gaps in the denouement, leaving out characters with whom Di Pego apparently couldn't be bothered.
Copyright ©2004 James Kendrick
All images copyright ©2004 Columbia Pictures