A new film, Unknown White Male, tells the real-life story of a man who, in July 2003, finds himself on the subway in New York with no idea who he is or where he is going. In footage shot a week later, he describes walking into a hospital on Coney Island in New York, to explain to the staff that he has lost his memory and only has a single clue to his own identity: a phone number he doesn’t recognise inside a book he is carrying. For their notes, the staff christen him ‘Unknown White Male’.
The documentary then tells the story of how he discovers his name – Doug Bruce – where he lives, what he does and his friends and his family. Has Doug suffered severe retrograde amnesia? None of the experts seem quite sure as there are no obvious physiological causes. Is Doug faking it for a laugh? It doesn’t seem likely. Finally, and most disturbingly, does Doug actually want to be ‘cured’? Perhaps not.
This understated documentary develops into a philosophical meditation on the meaning of personality, friendship and family, as both Doug and those closest to him struggle to understand what has happened, and what it means to them.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Watch the trailer
Read about memory, amnesia and identity (the film mostly avoids medical aspects to concentrate on the personal impact).
Is Doug faking it as a conceptual art stunt?
Links to further analysis on Mind Hacks
Unknown White Male receives a limited release in London on the 7th April 2006 and around the rest of the UK from 21st April.