The motion picture projector not only unreels that famous ribbon of dreams, it also frequently unravels the tangled web of memory. The flashback, one of the most common and ancient devices of film narrative, after all, suggests the easy and immediate power of the cinema to reflect the process of recollection.
A number of movies, like Total Recall and the more recent Paycheck and The Butterfly Effect, in fact, deal directly with the subject, demonstrating the complicated consequences of remembering the past, along with its power to affect and even reconstitute the present.
Memory generates the major actions of The Forgotten, which combines a good deal of the relatively orthodox mystery thriller with some of the premises of the science fiction flick. The protagonist's stubborn refusal to forget the past, her resolute insistence on the truth of her own perceptions, reveals not only a hidden truth, but also an extraordinary collusion between a corrupt government and an extraterrestrial power, just the sort of arrangement that might explain the distressing state of affairs many of us think of as contemporary life.
Julianne Moore plays Telly Paretta, who lives in a splendid house in Brooklyn with her husband Jim (Anthony Edwards) and the heartbreaking memory of her 10-year-old son, Sam (Christopher Kovaleski), who died, along with some other children, in the crash of a small chartered aircraft. The picture begins with her tearful contemplation of Sam's baseball glove and cap, his photographs, and videos of his younger self, artifacts that themselves constitute the solid proof of existence in this world.
Telly constantly revisits, as anyone can, concrete records of the past, moments of time frozen by the ordinary miracles of everyday technologies, reminding us that the English word "record" in fact derives from a Latin verb that means to remember.
Suffering the entirely understandable emotional devastation of losing a beloved child, she copes uncertainly with the trauma, attempting to move beyond the grief with the help of her husband and of her psychiatrist, Dr. Munce (Gary Sinise). Perhaps because of her precarious mental and emotional state, she finds herself forgetting things --- where she parked her car, what happened to her coffee cup --- that other characters must explain to her.
That forgetting rapidly progresses to the point of complete emotional collapse, when the evidence of Sam's existence simply disappears --- the familiar pictures now omit his presence, the photograph albums are blank, the video shows only static. Her husband and the doctor inform the desperate and hysterical Telly that her memories of Sam are false, delusions that resulted from a breakdown over a miscarriage, causing her to invent a child she never bore, a childhood that never really occurred, a history that never happened. Ultimately, everyone in her life comes to deny the existence of the past that so powerfully engages her.
Telly knows better, however, she believes in her memories, which gradually unfold in a series of repeated flashbacks, revealing increasingly more details in the reiterated images of her last moments with Sam. Those images, all she possesses now that the concrete records no longer exist, impel her to escape from Jim and Dr. Munce and seek out another parent of a child lost in the crash, Ash Corell (Dominic West), a former hockey player. Although he initially denies ever having a daughter and ever meeting either her or her son, she eventually convinces him and the two embark on a dangerous quest for the truth.
After establishing that situation, the picture settles into the pattern of the chase thriller, with Telly and Ash frantically trying to escape pursuers from the police, the National Security Agency, and a mysterious personage (Linus Roache) who obstructs their path at every turn. At the same time, they attempt to solve the mystery of the apparently universal erasure, mostly through Telly's constant act of recollection. Remembering conquers its true opposite, the dismembering of the past, so that Telly can defeat the forces of forgetting and reconstitute a sort of integrity to events.
Despite its somewhat silly and preposterous premises, with a connection between government and aliens right out of The X-Files, the picture taps some relevant themes, including once again the paranoia that so often manifests itself in the contemporary thriller. The Forgotten also provides a vehicle for Julianne Moore, who appears in almost every sequence and displays a convincing emotional range and intensity.
The breakneck pace and the frequent moments of shock and fright compensate for the rather disappointing explanation of the mystery. The sets and cinematography likewise compensate to a degree for the curious technique of removing characters from the action, which must be observed to be forgiven.
The Forgotten (PG-13), starring Julianne Moore, Dominic West, Gary Sinise, Anthony Edwards, Linus Roache; directed by Joseph Ruben. Cinemark Tinseltown; Loews Webster; Pittsford Plaza Cinema; Regal Culver Ridge; Regal Eastview; Regal Greece Ridge; Regal Henrietta