Through a glass darkly

Dominic West and Julianne Moore portray parents who have lost their children twice, once to a mysterious accident and a second time through memory manipulation in a dark allegory of post 9-11 America.

'The Forgotten' spins an allegory of our collective memory's manipulation

The Forgotten is a celebration of maternal love, the story of one mother's bond to her son that is so powerful no one - neither husband nor psychotherapist nor police nor extraterrestrial - can sever it. At the outset of the film, Telly Paretta (Moore) is struggling to cope with matters as mundane as preparing dinner. She cannot expunge from her mind images of her beloved 9-year-old son, Sam, who died in a plane crash 14 months before. But the misfortune, insist her husband, Jim (Edwards), and her analyst, Dr. Munce (Sinise), is only in her mind. She never had a son, they say; the false memories that torment her were induced by the lingering trauma of a miscarriage.

Telly refuses to accept the claim that Sam is a delusion. She runs into a man, Ash Cornell (West), who she believes was the father of Sam's friend, Lauren. At first, Ash, a tippling former hockey star, thinks Telly is demented; as far as he is aware, he never had a daughter. But under Telly's persistent pressure, Ash realizes that she is right, that his daughter perished along with Sam, though evidence of their crash has vanished from the public record. Telly, a sophisticated book editor who never watches TV, and Ash, a former jock who subsists on a diet of junk snacks and whiskey, join forces against a world that has conspired to snatch their children from them again, by denying parental memories.

The Forgotten

Dir. Joseph Ruben; writ. Gerald Di Pego; feat. Julianne Moore, Dominic West, Gary Sinise, Alfre Woodard, Anthony Edwards (PG-13)
Aside from a characteristically superb performance by Moore, The Forgotten is a routine psychological thriller whose routine is complicated by the existence of aliens who abduct humans in order to conduct experiments. E.T. here is not a cuddly caller. However, the supernatural force that really sets this film apart is the ghost of 9-11 haunting every frame, beginning with the image of the New York skyline that is tracked from the air during the opening credits. The Parettas live in a brownstone in downtown Brooklyn, just beneath the bridges that lead into Manhattan. Theirs is a neighborhood that was inundated with debris when the Twin Towers collapsed on the morning of September 11, 2001. Gerald Di Pego's screenplay makes no mention of the World Trade Center, Al Qaeda, or the Patriot Act, but this is clearly a story about the aftermath of loss and how powerful figures establish control by manipulating remembrance. "Sometimes the mind needs help in letting a memory go," declares Dr. Munce, trying to soothe Telly into forgetting about the son he insists she never had.

Soviet dissidents used to tell the truth at a slant, eluding prison by alluding, not stating. Read obliquely, The Forgotten is an unsettling allegory of how the Bush administration conspires with complaisant media to erase and rewrite collective memory. Most scenes are dimly lit, and as Telly and Ash flit in and out of urban shadows within walking distance of lower Manhattan, they are pursued by armed and implacable emissaries of the National Security Agency who deny jurisdiction to one of New York's finest, a stubborn detective named Ann Pope (Woodard). Hostile to New Yorkers and other unsubmissive citizens, the feds are secretly in cahoots with dangerous aliens. Long after The Forgotten might otherwise be forgotten, it will survive to remind viewers of the current reign of terror, in which history is rewritten to justify snooping and actions by the federal government serve to strengthen hostile hands. •


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