Before I Go To Sleep opens on Christine (Nicole Kidman) waking up in a bed beside a man she doesn’t know, in surroundings she does not recognize. Soon it is explained that years ago, she had an accident that left her with anterograde amnesia. Every morning she wakes up with no memory of her life past her early twenties. The man who explains this to her is her husband, Ben (Colin Firth). Later, she receives a telephone call from a Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong), who says that he has been working with her in secret, hoping to bring back some of her memories. And as those memories come back, it becomes evident that not everything is as it seems.
The tension in the movie mainly springs from the fact that everyone surrounding Christine is acting like a real creep. She doesn’t know whom to trust; who among the men telling her about her life are telling the truth. The movie treats this as a big mystery, complete with big revelations and even bigger red herrings. And it all just feels really silly. When the real truth is finally laid out, it all feels like an elaborate waste of time, a mass of grand illogic that is too much trouble to take seriously.
The problems of this film are a little hard to describe without giving away too much. Without getting into specifics, the film features the kind of mystery that really falls apart when the answer is revealed. Minor details suddenly become huge plot holes, as the plausibility of any of the characters’ actions come into question. And the thing is, it isn’t even much of a solution. The film, with its very limited scope, seemed to only provide a couple of real possibilities for what really happened. So even early on, the dread of the illogical but inevitable ending hangs over much of the proceedings.
To its credit, the film manages to make all this illogic look good. What it lacks in smarts, it makes up for in style. Its scenes feel cold and oppressive, the mise-en-scene designed to reflect the constant uncertainty felt by the main character. The direction hangs close to tired thriller tropes, with the camera lingering a little too long on ominous reveals. But it works well enough for the most part. It is in the sound that the movie gets a bit much. The aggressive sound design relies too heavily on loud surges of music to indicate that something terrible has happened. The look of the film really should have been enough.
Nicole Kidman is fine in the lead role, but she’s been much better. The movie doesn’t really seem to use much of her toolset, the actress mainly called to look dazed and confused for the majority of the runtime. Colin Firth and Mark Strong are used pretty badly as well. Though the two actors are clearly trying, the nature of their roles calls for them to be beholden to the reversals, their characterizations shifting as the story takes its narrative twists and turns.
Before I Go to Sleep is ludicrous. In the right context, ludicrous can be fun. But this movie presents its ridiculous travails as serious business. And it just doesn’t hold up. As the film reaches its final moments, it makes a bid for sentimentality that is both baffling and completely laughable. It once again reveals a stray detail that makes the entire enterprise seem even more stupid. It couldn’t even coast to an ending. Even in its denouement, the movie finds a way to add one last plot hole to its already tattered tapestry.