(Warning: Spoilers ahead.)
Every human writes her own story. But how could one make this narrative coherent, if every chapter is being erased as soon as it is ready? That is what happens to Christine Lucas in Before I Go to Sleep (written and directed by Rowan Joffe and based on a 2011 novel by S.J. Watson). Christine suffers from a rare psychogenic amnesia that makes it impossible for her to store memories for longer than a day. When she goes to sleep, she momentarily forgets everything she did before.
It is not clear what have caused her illness. It might have been an accident or an assault. Christine does not remember this event, yet she must establish what it was. The point is that she is unable to do it, since she can only remember one day at a time. The solution comes from her psychiatrist. He gives her a camcorder, so she could record a journal. This helps her to link the memories and finally solve the mystery of her enigmatic “accident.” She realizes that the man, who claims to be her husband, is actually her ex-lover Mike. He is a violent psychopath, an immature and brutal person that cannot respect a woman’s independent wishes and desires. That is why after Christine’s trauma he decides to play the part of her husband and keeps her for himself as a prisoner not aware of her own imprisonment. Case solved. The movie ends with a very emotional, yet very infantile scene of a family reunion. Christine finally meets her true husband and her true son.
Could it be that simple? What is a bit suspicious is not the plot itself, but rather Christine as a home-grown investigator. We hear stories about Christine, they are tales about a woman whose personality is shattered into pieces, who fills up gaps in her life with false memories. But the Christine we know is nothing like that. She is determined to discover, what happened to her, she is straight-thinking, her actions are logical and reasonable. One could say that it is because of the camcorder. Having this device she is able to record her memories and integrate her personality. On the other hand this is another highly suspicious element – the magical camcorder that appears one day and changes everything. But what if there is no camcorder?
Is it possible that we are witnessing not an investigation, but merely a production of another false memory? Let us start from the very beginning. Christine had an accident. No one knows what actually happened, but since then she suffers from a severe amnesia. She lives with her husband Ben who takes care of her. They had a son, but he died during his mother’s illness. There is also a psychiatrist that helps Christine recover. Maybe that is the whole story, but it is so overwhelming and devastating for Christine that she has to reorganize it all over again. In other words she starts seeing a criminal plot which does not exist.
Maybe there was some guy named Mike, maybe he was Christine’s ex-lover. That is not the point. The point is that there must be a persecutor. There must be someone to be blamed for this whole mess. There must be a person responsible for taking away Christine’s life and destroying her family. In Christine’s world this place is being occupied by different characters. First it is a mysterious aggressor, then it is her psychiatrist, finally it is a demonic hybrid of her husband Ben and enigmatic Mike. When this becomes clear another step leads to establishing a new harmony.
Before I go to sleep has been compared to Memento. In both of those films main characters are living lives that are not true. Although there is one significant difference. In Memento the false story comes from the outside. The reality is being explained by the main character’s acquaintance. Christine is on her own. There is no ready-made explanation, she must fix it by herself. And in her own twisted way she succeeds.
The truth about her accident and her son’s death is too hard to swallow. That is why she must replace it with her own happy ending. Thus the last scene, so infantile and so emotional, is nothing more than a fantasy. But it is not just any fantasy. It is the fantasy that makes reality work.
Jakub Wojnarowski is a psychologist and a great fan of the works of Sigmund Freud. He also writes sci-fi fiction and has published short stories in the Polish magazine Nowa Fantastyka. He lives in Poznan.