This desperately upsetting Netflix documentary, a portrait of a troubled family, is best watched knowing as little possible. Director Ed Perkins slickly pieces his story together like a psychological thriller – a little too slickly, perhaps, for such an emotionally painful tale.
Following a motorbike accident in 1982, 18-year-old Alex Lewis woke up from a coma with almost total memory loss. The only person he recognised was his twin brother, Marcus. Once he had left hospital, Marcus retaught Alex everything – how to tie his shoelaces, what a toaster does, the name of his girlfriend. And he told him the story of their childhood growing up with a loving mum and dad in a country pile in the home counties, the family holidays in France, the good life. But it was all a lie.
The film is split into three parts. The first is an interview with amnesiac Alex. Looking back, he sees that Marcus’s story didn’t tally with the life he experienced when he came out of hospital. Marcus warned him their dad was a bully: “Always be polite. Call him sir.” Their mum was an odd eccentric. The brothers were made to sleep in a shed in the garden; they weren’t allowed a key to the house. At 32, Alex learned the truth.
In the second part, Perkins gives the perspective to Marcus – he still believes he did the right thing in protecting Alex from the horrors of his childhood memories.
Now 54, these two scarred men sit across a table from each other in the film’s final section, their faces muted by pain and sadness. The film would be unbearable were it not for the fact that both have found some peace with happy families of their own. Perhaps their twinness, a feeling of never being alone, protected them. For the first time, Marcus tells Alex exactly what happened to them as boys. I am not sure we needed to hear the details, but Tell Me Who I Am is their film, so it’s their call.
• Tell Me Who I Am is released in the UK on 18 October.
Source: The Guardian