Tell Me Who I Am (the UK, 2019) is a documentary film directed by Oscar-nominated Ed Perkins. Produced by Simon Chinn, this documentary was shown on Netflix. This film was based on a 2013 book by twins Alex and Marcus Lewis and Joanna Hodgkin.
The film opens with Alex’s narration about his motorcycle crash when he was 18 in 1982. He suffers a three-month coma and wakes up with no memory at all except for the face of his identical twin brother, Marcus, who he instantly recognized.
Imagine, you don’t know where you are, you don’t even recognize your own mother, and worse, you don’t even know your own name! That’s one great deal of memory loss.
Because of the brain trauma, doctors tell them that Alex, although 18, has a brain of a 9-year-old.
So Marcus decides to provide all the details, especially activities of daily living, just to get Alex to be normal again. Using photographs and home videos, Marcus would talk about their childhood, and the places they went, creating a picture of their rich British family.
Alex, who has no working memory to start with, becomes reliant on Marcus because it was the latter who could explain what happened in their lives. Aside from Marcus, Alex discovers the television as another source of information about the world.
However, some questions start popping up in Alex’s mind. Like, why are they staying in a separate shed on their property? Why don’t they have keys to the main house? Why was their father emotionally distant from them? Before their father died, their father asked for forgiveness. Alex becomes confused and asks what’s there to forgive?
Answers come many years later when at the age of 32, their mother died. While cleaning the house, Alex finds a wardrobe filled with sex toys which he finds puzzling. Then he finds a torn photograph of two naked ten-year-old boys. The heads are cut off but Alex immediately assumes that it is their photograph. So he confronts Marcus asking if their mother had sexually abused them. Marcus simply nods and says nothing more.
You could just imagine Alex becoming devastated after having received all the information about his identity only from Marcus. Why was this truth hidden from him?
Marcus admits he omitted that dark secret in order to protect Alex from the harrowing memories of their shared past. As he created a fantasy life for Alex, he began to believe it himself and was able to suppress his own memories so he could move on, too.
Both come to terms at the age of 54 when Marcus and Alex faced each other. Marcus reveals to Alex that not only did their mother sexually abuse them but also was involved in a child sex ring wherein she would drive one of them to different male pedophiles across Britain. This continued up until the age of 14 when Marcus fought back.
This was the reason why Marcus was so unforgiving to their parents when they died. He kept the anger inside him all these years and spared Alex of those memories.
Today, Marcus and Alex have their own families and live incredibly rich lives.
The documentary centers on the themes of brotherhood, the blurred line between fact and fiction, and the question of who we are if we lose our memory. It is heavy to watch because of child sexual abuse. Yet, intriguing to continue. There is that grip that puts you on the edge of your seat and keeps on asking what’s next.
Their story is a testament that speaking out loud about the horrors of the past brings catharsis and healing. Both men had lost the bond between twins but now they’ve got that bond back. But it took many years for them to reach this point.
Because of this, I’m rating this documentary 5 out of 5 stars.