Film in review – “Before I Go To Sleep”

Before_i_go_to_sleep_posterChristine (Nicole Kidman) wakes up every day remembering nothing. She wakes up in bed with a man who claims to be her husband; he tries to reassure her that she is fine now, though she was the victim of a terrible accident several years ago. Christine struggles to believe what he is saying, then wonders why she doesn’t and why she feels afraid.

After he leaves for work, she receives a phone call, from a Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong) who says he’s been treating her so that she can overcome her trauma. This intrigues her enough that she finds the camera he says she has hidden in her wardrobe. When she plays what’s recorded there, she finds a video of herself, obviously crying and upset, trying to tell herself things that she has remembered, but is afraid she’ll forget again once she sleeps. This encourages her enough to go visit with Dr. Nasch to find out more, but she feels somewhat ambivalent about him. Also, there seems to be some emotional connection here, and not just professional distance between client and therapist.

Christine, desperate to find someone else in her life who might help her search for clues to her identity, is told about a son, Adam, who died, which grieves her terribly. She is able to recall distant memories of cuddling a baby, but what happened after that? And then there are occasionally snippets of memory about a good friend, Claire (Anne-Marie Duff), but then when we finally meet her, we discover something else to be ambivalent about: She admits having had an affair with Ben, but only after Christine had first had an affair that had damaged her marital relationship.

Now we’re all confused. We have to rely on the main characters to navigate us through this morass and hope we find some clarity somewhere. It would all be a frustrating visual experience, except that Nicole Kidman in the lead role is a good enough actress to draw us in to her personal dilemma. She and Colin Firth play off each other marvelously, as he plays the gentle husband, alternately calm and assuring, and then visibly upset about recalling a happier past. But it turns out that her being frightened around him might be more than just uncertainty, it might be the leftover instinct from some really bad experiences.

As for Dr. Nasch, he too seems to be calm and reassuring, but why would he tell her that she doesn’t need to say anything about him to her husband? What does he have to hide? And how is she going to figure any of this out for herself, when she has to start all over again the next day?

Yes, they all take the viewer for a ride. And it’s not a fun one, from the standpoint of happily-ever-after. But it’s a bit of dramatic theater (with limited cast, sets and costumes) that keeps us guessing about the characters until the end. As for the experience of watching it, it’s like enjoying being lost in a maze. The frustration is the fun.


RONALD P. SALFEN is the parish associate at Woodhaven Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.