The Forgotten


gen-x-review-the-forgotten-poster.jpgThe only redeeming characteristic about the new film The Forgotten is how easy it is to forget it.

It has been 14 months since Telly Paretta’s (Julianne Moore’s) son Sam died in a tragic plan crash. She walks through her home like a ghost, retracing her steps, trying to understand how her son could be taken away from her. Her life is in an uncomfortable stasis, and she rifles through her son’s drawers trying to draw her memories of him back within herself. Her psychologist Dr. Munce (Gary Sinise) and husband Jim (Anthony Edwards) want her to forget Sam and move on, but one day she wakes up to find pictures of her son have disappeared.

Jim doesn’t remember Sam and the records of the crash have disappeared. Dr. Munce tells her that she never had a son and has invented the boy out of her desperate longing for a child. In these uncertain early moments of the film it’s impossible to determine if Telly is sane or not, and the film succeeds as a kind of sustained psychotic episode.

M. Night Shyamalan reinvented the ironic reversal in films like The Sixth Sense and when we watch a movie nosedive today we secretly expect a surprise ending that makes sense of it somehow. Shyamalan did not write or direct The Forgotten, so don’t expect the unexpected from the film. I did, and I paid for this by over-thinking the movie every step of the way, but I wasn’t alone: Almost everyone in the audience expected the film to turn away in a different direction toward its end.

Folks who were letdown by Shyamalan’s The Village haven’t seen anything yet. The Forgotten might, in fact, be one of the all-time lamest films ever made. Screenwriter Gerald DiPego sends trite, under-developed characters out in a world as weird as a Philip K. Dick paranoid dream, wastes a fine performance by Moore, and puts it all with the most foul soundtrack heard in years.

Telly has one motivation: To save the children, which she says over and over again until I defy anyone not to hear the famous Julia Louis Dreyfus – “The dingo ate your baby” – segment from Seinfeld. Telly enlists the help of fellow parent Ash (Dominic West), whose daughter was also on the plane, and the two have virtually nothing to talk about but their kids, even when they discover aliens (yes, aliens) might be responsible for the missing kids.

Gosh, you mean everything we have built our civilization on might be an elaborate conspiracy? Aliens might pull us off into the sky at any moment without any warning? A shadowy network of otherworldly baby snatchers controls the government? Yes, okay, but what about the children!? Are they eating right!? Have they got a clean change of underwear!?

Parenthood like this scares me. It looks like a sort of cult, and I distrust any biological urge that has the power to short-circuit my reasoning skills. The film wrestles with this by making Ash an alcoholic of the “After-School Special” variety. When Ash wants to get loaded to forget his problems Telly tells him she needs him – and what about the children!? – and the inevitable breakthrough feels so contrived that

I’m sure West had to get drunk to pull the role off with a straight face.

So the addictive power of parenthood trumps the addictive power of alcohol, which sounds more comforting than it is. There is, in fact, a powerful anti-abortion, biological determinism argument wrapped in this creepy little film. Our memories may be stolen from us, but the fundamental experience of motherhood is so special, so sacred, that it can never be severed. When push comes to shove, Telly is nothing if she isn’t Sam’s mom, which is a nice way of saying that her one purpose is to save the children!

Her best parts are locked up in her child, and when he disappears there’s literally nothing left of Telly.
The film also has a number of weird shots that disrupt the flow of the narrative and seem to add nothing to the story. At first I thought these scenes were my imagination, or that they were intended to show an alien or Leprechaun looking in from a window, but now I’m convinced the cameraman was loaded.

The Forgotten is easily one of the weirdest bad films in recent years. When a roof is torn off of a building and disappears into the night sky a 10-year old boy behind me said, “This is f’n crazy!” to his friend. But the film is best when it’s able to sustain a state of psychotic tension. And Moore’s acting is good enough to keep us hoping the filmmakers will pull a rabbit out of their hats, a Jacob’s Ladder sort of ending.

We shouldn’t feel betrayed when it doesn’t, but we still do, and the film leaves a bad taste in your mouth, like you’ve sat through a Scientologist indoctrination video or been trapped sitting next to a Jehovah’s Witness recruiter on a long plan flight

It’s difficult to argue when an alien creature tells Telly: “There are worse things than forgetting.”


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