A jittery, strikingly blue eye is shown in extreme close-up. It belongs to a woman named Christine, who finds herself naked in bed with a strange man’s arm draped around her waist. She stumbles to a nearby bathroom, where she finds clues about her identity taped to a wall. The man appears shortly after and introduces himself as Christine’s husband. It’s an effective little opening that succeeds in making the viewer feel as disoriented as Christine. The problem with Before I Go To Sleep is that — even as the truth is unpacked — the disorientation turns into disengagement and (worst of all) disinterest. In other words, this is a thriller that isn’t particularly thrilling.
“My name is Christine Lucas. Tonight, as I sleep, my mind will erase everything that I know today.”
Before I Go To Sleep essentially beings where 50 First Dates ended. Nicole Kidman stars as Christine, a 40-year-old British woman with no memory of the previous 15 years. Each day, she is tended to by her husband Ben (Colin Firth), who patiently informs Christine of her condition and the traumatic event that caused it. After Ben leaves one day, Christine receives a phone call from Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong), a neurologist who claims to be treating her disorder. Dr. Nasch directs Christine to the spot in her closet where she stashed the video diary he asked her to keep.
The action then flashes back two weeks to show us the start of the video diary and her work with Dr. Nasch. As Christine tries to figure out what caused her condition, she begins to realize Ben is keeping certain details about her past hidden. Does he have nefarious motives, or is Ben simply being overly protective? And does Dr. Nasch devote this much personal attention to all his patients?
We’ve seen anterograde amnesia on screen before, most famously in 50 First Dates and the brilliant Memento. (Heck, we’ve even seen it in cartoon form.) The instinct is to (unfavorably) compare Before I Go To Sleep to the memory loss movies that came before it, despite the fact that it’s actually based on S.J. Watson’s 2011 best seller of the same name. But the comparison isn’t unfavorable simply because this film comes years after those other offerings and feels unoriginal. Instead, this film falls flat because apparently no one told director Rowan Joffe that he was making a ridiculous movie.
Before I Go To Sleep is the sort of movie that quickly falls apart if you spend more than five minutes thinking about its plausibility. (So it’s best not to go there.) 50 First Dates obviously played the premise for goofy rom-com laughs, but even a great filmmaker like Christopher Nolan saw the value in dressing up a similar premise with a killer gimmick. (In Memento’s case, it was telling part of the story backwards.) Before I Go To Sleep is comparatively dull and dour. The “shocking revelations” about Christine’s past are largely shrugged off by the audience because we suspected — nay, *expected* — there would be “shocking revelations” about Christine’s past.
Joffe has made a spare, handsome film — there are barely more than a handful of speaking parts that matter — that has more in common with Lifetime’s “women in peril” movies than it does with any great big screen chiller. To be fair, if Before I Go To Sleep were actually a Lifetime movie, it would be the best-acted Lifetime movie of all time.
On the surface, Kidman’s frail, porcelain features make her a strong choice to play a terrorized woman. But despite Kidman’s best efforts and total commitment, the role of perpetually teary-eyed victim is an uncomfortable fit for the statuesque actress. The movie deserves credit for cannily capitalizing on its two male leads’ movie personas. Firth has played some of the all-time movie nice guys, while Strong is a celebrated British Bad Guy. It’s hard to get those perceptions out of your head as you try to decide whether Ben is telling the truth or Dr. Nasch can be trusted. (It’s also kinda fun.)
Unfortunately, the story’s biggest twist feels like a sobering slap to the face mostly because there’s a decent chance you were nodding off by that point. The movie’s title is basically an invitation to make fun of its uninvolving snooziness. Before I Go To Sleep does deserve credit for making anybody who watches it relate to its heroine: by the time you wake up tomorrow, you’ll have forgotten all about this movie.