The Forgotten (2004)
Fair warning: This screed contains huge spoilers about the movie as I rip it apart. The press release for The Forgotten says, “What if you were told that every moment you experienced and every memory you held dear never happened?” And now, upon having seen The Forgotten, I say, “Oh, if only.”
Telly (Julianne Moore) is still grieving the loss of her nine-year-old son who died in a plane crash 14 months ago. She’s seeing a psychiatrist (Gary Sinise) and slowly coming to terms with her loss. One day she discovers all remnants of her son missing. His clothes, baseball glove, even his appearance in pictures has vanished. She accuses her husband (Anthony Edwards) of stealing them, but then is shocked when her hubby and doc both tell her that Telly never had a son. She’s been delusional for years since a miscarriage and has created an imaginary son. Telly refuses to accept the possibility that she’s nuts, and finds initial resistance and then acceptance from another parent (Dominic West) who also remembers a daughter that died in the same plane crash. Together they set off to learn the truth, all the while being hunted down by the NSA for some mysterious reason.
The Forgotten shares a very dubious honor. Only twice in my life have I been strongly tempted to walk out on a movie, and that was while watching Lost in Space and The Thin Red Line. Six years later, The Forgotten became the third. It got so bad during the second half that I was fashioning my moveable armrest into a crude headboard for me to sleep upon. I was that bored. I can explain the reasons for my boredom very easily: terrible plot structure.
The Forgotten opens with Telly grieving over the loss of her son, and Moore is so good at grief that she can hook an audience as soon as her face crinkles into sadness. Around the 20-minute mark, Telly is told that she never had a son and has been delusional the whole time. Now, stop right there. That’s a great premise. If the makers of The Forgotten had stretched this part of the movie to about 90 minutes, put some thought and skill toward it, then we could have had something fascinating and heartfelt. Instead, you’re given the easily expected and the very boring.
At the 20-minute mark, Telly is told she has no child and she’s crazy. At around the 30-minute mark, none of this matters. The movie doesn’t even allow an opportunity for Telly to even doubt for a sheer second about her wild hunch that everyone in her life, including The New York Times, being apart of some global conspiracy to hide the fact she had a child. And of course, because she?s our heroine and this is Hollywood, her incredibly outlandish theories will be proven right. I understand that, but to reveal her theory’s accuracy only TEN MINUTES later is ridiculous. The Forgotten wastes no time proving Telly’s wild ranting as being correct. It’s as if The Forgotten feels that its audience is cultivated from the dumbest common denominator.
At the 40-minute mark the “A-word” is used, and before the 60-minutes mark, the audience knows everything. The last hour of the film is so obvious; no, it’s beyond obvious. It’s super obvious. It can’t even be obvious because The Forgotten has told you EVERYTHING. You’re not waiting around for predictability to play its way out, because you’ve been told everything. All that’s left is to sit and watch dull chase scenes (a book editor outrun NSA trained agents? Please).
There will be some heavy spoilers in my discussion of the film’s plot. I’m posting fair warning now, but doubt they’ll be too surprising given the ads on TV for The Forgotten (who else would you think was responsible?).
I have no idea what the makers of The Forgotten were thinking. They blow all their secrets in the first half and then mill around for another hour. It’d be like if The Sixth Sense revealed Haley Joel Osment sees ghosts and Bruce Willis is dead in the first hour, and then for another hour they sit uncomfortably and ask about the weather. Anyone think that movie would have worked the same? This is why I was so bored. I could have fallen asleep and accurately predicted everything that would happen in the second hour. There didn’t even need to be a second half to this film. It was all irritatingly explained to us in the first hour. Once the mystery’s gone, the only thing the audience has to keep its faltering attention are the questions of whether Telly can win back her son, and who will be vacuumed out of the universe next. That’s not much to justify another tension-free, revelation-free hour of awful movie.
The ending is also steeped in lunacy. So apparently all-powerful aliens love to play experiments on us and basically control our whole lives. Peachy. Telly is apart of an experiment, and the creepy, slim alien tells her that she’s the anomaly. All the other test subjects have forgotten, but not her, and the little green men want to know why. What’s even more peculiar is that this specimen of a supposedly advanced race is mad at Telly for gunking up the project, and he’s (its?) going to beat her until she forgets and the project is finished. But the alien just said she was the lone anomaly. By definition the project worked if everyone else succeeded. I’m no advanced race and I figured that out. Guess I’m smarter than the screenwriter of The Forgotten.
Once again, humans miraculously triumph over supposedly all-powerful alien species. I realize an audience wants to see our heroes succeed at the end and conquer evil, but is it even plausible when this evil can alter everyone’s existence at a moment’s notice? In the end, Telly gets her son back and her life is fulfilled. The makers of The Forgotten expect you to take this for a happy, victorious ending. Don’t. Sure, Telly has her kid back, but what’s to stop these all-powerful aliens from doing it again. For that matter, since she was the anomaly, wouldn’t they continue to perform experiments on her to see what makes her tick?
What makes The Forgotten even more irksome is that it’s a blatant rip-off of Alex Proyas’ visionary 1998 sci-fi noir, Dark City. The plot of Dark City is about all-powerful aliens that experiment with human beings. They plant different memories into their heads, allow their human test subjects to live multiple identities, to see what makes us work. A reluctant doctor helps the aliens but is really rooting for the one test subject that seems beyond their power. The aliens are baffled about this anomaly. This is practically the entire plot for The Forgotten; trade Shell Beach for Quest Air, lose all the style, thrills, imagination, and pacing of Dark City, and what you’re left with is The Forgotten.
It’s not enough that The Forgotten is possibly the most ineptly plotted movie ever, or that the trailer and commercials gave away too much (I knew the ending before stepping into the theater), the ails of The Forgotten are exacerbated by the fact that it’s a shallow, homely, incompetent rip-off of Dark City.
I do not fault Moore. She is one of the finest working actresses today and will elevate anything she is in to some degree. She’s stranded by the material. The only performance I even took any note of was the surprise appearance of Lee Tergesen. He’s shown equally impressive comedic chops (USA’s Weird Science) as dramatic chops (He was the closest thing to a hero on HBO’s Oz). It’s always fun to see personally beloved character actors, even if it is in an abomination like The Forgotten.
Director Joseph Ruben (Money Train, The Good Son) finds astonishing ways to make The Forgotten even worse. He overplays his hand early, like having many overhead shots cued with weird, aerial noises. There’s also an ominous and extremely mobile cloud formation that spells out the antagonists. The second half is filled with pointless chase scenes, and Ruben can’t manage to make any part of them exciting. He does have one interesting jump moment while Telly is riding in a car, but I already saw it this year in the superior Bourne Supremacy.
The Forgotten may end up being the worst film of 2004, and with a year dotted by the likes of Hellboy, Van Helsing, Catwoman, and National Lampoon’s Gold Diggers, that may be all I need to say. I suppose someone out there may find something redeemable about The Forgotten (if they haven’t already seen Dark City), but the film’s tepid pacing, mind-numbingly foolish plot structure, and mounting illogical doom the poor audience to two hours of head-smacking boredom. This is a first-class Hollywood train wreck. It doesn’t work as a drama about grief, it doesn’t work as a psychological thriller, and it really doesn’t work as a half-baked X-Files episode. The Forgotten is a really great title, because in a few weeks it’ll be exactly that.
Nate’s Grade: F