Written by Ram Venkat Srikar
Before anything, I’m craving to grasp how filmmaker Ed Perkins persuaded the subjects of Tell Me Who I Am to share their darkest secrets, not just with him, but with the entire world. For that case, I have a stronger desire to listen to their conversations before they captured a single second of the film. It isn’t a kind of concept that lets a documentary filmmaker meet the subjects, spend some time, get to know them and start filming. That doesn’t apply here because Perkins set out answer questions which were weighing heavy on Alex Lewis, one of the subjects, for over 30 years. It is not a simple concept to conceive. Because the kind of lane it travels, forget sharing your experiences with the world, but one wouldn’t share those with the ones closest to them.
Being identical twins, Alex and Marcus spent their whole life together. At 18, Alex met with an accident in which he lost his complete memory, except for his brother’s identity. This accident remodelled both their lives forever, for good, I feel, but you may disagree. Eighteen-year-old Alex had to begin from scratch, not an easy task, but he had his brother, Marcus hold his hand and guide him, as he took one step at a time. In short, Marcus became everything for Alex. And the word ‘everything’ retains its literal meaning, in this context, and builds a whole new life for him. All by himself. While this is about a man helping his brother to cope with life after a tragedy, which is the accident, it is indeed about the same man striving to keep his brother disengaged about a tragedy, which their entire childhood had been about. Is it easy for a person to fumble the reality that his mother had sexually abused him and his brother until their teens? No, by all means. But when one of them loses their memory, isn’t it a great new way to start for the one, leaving the hideousness behind? I strongly feel so. But the film never talks about whether the accident did good or bad. It’s just an accident that altered everything.
When Marcus builds a new life for Alex, he creates a better one free of all the grotesque memories. He paints a perfect picture of a healthy family when they are evidently not one. Did Marcus lie? Yes. But only to make Alex’s life better, which makes him feel he has been living a fake life all the while after he finds out both of them were sexually abused. Although Alex finds this out at the age of 32, Marcus doesn’t give a bit of information on what actually happened. And the moment he finds out that they were abused, it is the very same moment that crushes everything which Marcus built for Alex, and for himself. In the process of creating a fake and better future for Alex, Marcus creates an alternate reality for himself, silencing the childhood trauma. The film dwells deeper than what I just said and it crushes you learning what these two went through. And the film’s last act is a strikingly intimate conversation between the two. And the fact that such a private and personal moment is captured, letting us experience the same is brave of both the brothers and the filmmaker.
The answer to the question, Tell Me Who I Am, is right in front of our eyes in the form of recreated scenes, but we don’t see that; just like Alex. It’s only after Marcus reveals the truth and you go back, only to realise the answer has been there all the while. Although staging might give a negative sense to describe a documentary, the whole atmosphere is sterling. It cleverly recreates some important moments, and the cinematography reflects Alex’s state of mind. It’s an illusion. Every time their home that played a major part in their life, appears, I couldn’t refrain but feel that the cinematographer Eric Alexander Wilson wants to present it the way he’d introduce a mansion in a horror film. It’s true considering that the home is indeed, a horror mansion. The whole film builds up to the ultimate conversation in the last act that would finally tell Alex who he is. This conversation aspect is held throughout. Alex is on the left during his interview with the camera. And, Marcus is on the right during his interview. Together, they fill the screen because they are one.
Tell Me Who I Am is one of the most intimate portrayals of life I’ve ever seen in a film. And the word ‘intimate’, stands true to the film.