The extraordinary new film “Tell Me Who I Am” is further proof that the most potent documentaries aren’t always the one’s focused on prominent people or major events. Sometimes it’s the docs which tell the more intimate and deeply personal experiences that are the most compelling.
‘Intimate’ and ‘deeply personal’ certainly describes “Tell Me Who I Am”. Through the entire film we only hear two voices, those of identical twin brothers Alex and Marcus Lewis. Director Ed Perkins puts us face-to-face with the twins as they tell their remarkable story through their own emotionally crippling points-of-view. And Perkins’ approach to their story is (wisely) more therapeutic than probing.
In 1982 when the British brothers were 18-years-old Alex was left in a coma following a serious motorcycle accident. He woke up with long-term amnesia, unable to remember anyone or anything with one exception. From his hospital bed he looked over and immediately recognized his brother Marcus. But regarding everything else Alex states “My head was just blank.”
After being released from the hospital the family returns home and Alex begins the daunting journey to rediscover his identity. He leans heavily on his brother whom he trusts implicitly. Like a jigsaw puzzle Marcus begins putting pieces together for Alex and painting a portrait of a happy childhood with two loving parents. But years later the discovery of one single photo changes everything and brings into question all that Alex has been led to believe about his past.
I don’t want to give away much more but suffice it to say there is more to their childhood than Alex knows and it was intentionally kept from him by the one he trusted most in the world. Now 54, the brothers are still wrestling with their situations. Alex struggles with the vast hole in his memory and the broken bond of trust with his brother. Marcus is burdened by his actions and the moral dilemma of telling Alex the truth or keeping something from him that could cause tremendous pain.
Perkins slowly builds the tension by structuring each of the first two acts around the individual brothers. That sets up a heart-shattering third act that brings every raw feeling and deeply rooted emotion to the surface. It also brings the entirety of the film together in a truly affecting way. It’s absolutely devastating even though it feels like we are only scratching the surface of their story. At the same time I didn’t want to go further. I already felt as if I was invading their painful pasts. Thankfully Perkins shows restraint and allows the brothers to dictate what is revealed and what is kept private. Any other way and the film would be unbearable.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS