"Questions of Identity"
COMPLETE UNKNOWN is a character-driven drama about a woman who disappeared 15 years ago, and her sudden arrival at the birthday party of the boyfriend she left behind long ago. COMPLETE UNKNOWN has a Romantic worldview with light moral, redemptive undertones and foul language.
The movie tells a deceptively simple story. A man named Tom (Michael Shannon), undergoing a midlife crisis with a boring government job and tense marriage, has a birthday party. At first, the party seems shapeless to the point that viewers may wonder if there’s a script involved. Gradually, however, it dawns on Tom that one of the guests, a woman calling herself Anna (Rachel Weisz), who’s his friend’s date, actually is an old girlfriend named Jennifer from his own past. Jennifer disappeared 15 years ago when they were attending college, and Tom thought she had died.
Jennifer keeps trying to impress everyone else at the party, weaving ever more fantastic stories about her life experiences. Meanwhile, as Tom pays more attention to her to figure out what’s happening, he’s annoying his own wife and drawing the curiosity of his friends.
After about 20 minutes, Tom finally confronts Jennifer directly, and the movie suddenly becomes a fascinating exploration of identity. Jennifer has indeed traveled the world and done all manner of adventurous things under different personas. The movie invites viewers to question whether she has the right to keep disappearing and leaving people and lives behind, or if that is either cruel or unethical.
When Jennifer convinces the party to go dancing at a club, she winds up sneaking out after Tom argues with her. Guilt ridden, Tom runs into the street, tells her he really wants to know what it’s like for her to just disappear. The two wind up spending a long night, where she shows him her latest job at a laboratory studying frogs. They also encounter an older couple (Kathy Bates and Danny Glover). Jennifer used to work in nursing in a previous persona, so Tom pretends to be a doctor.
This fascinating, largely two-actor movie keeps revealing more and more subtle surprises as it goes. The actors are terrific, delivering fully realized emotional performances, and the screenplay is brilliantly written after some initial formlessness. As a result, it leaves viewers with an ever-growing number of questions about what they would do in Jennifer’s place, if given the chance to leave and take on different identities.
COMPLETE UNKNOWN is an acquired taste, so it’s not for everyone. However, except for some strong foul language, its content is relatively inoffensive. The filmmakers don’t force Tom and Jennifer into a gratuitous romantic or sexual fling, which is to their credit. Instead, Tom’s renewed acquaintance with Jennifer ends up causing Tom to commit himself more strongly to his wife, who wants him to give up his comfortable government job so she can pursue a career in designing jewelry.
(RoRo, B, C, L, V, A, M) Strong Romantic worldview with some light moral, redemptive elements as male protagonist conflicted about his wife’s desire to move to the West Coast to pursue a new career decides to help his wife instead of be selfish; seven obscenities, including several “f” words; older woman falls and hurts her foot; no sex or sexual immorality, though married protagonist has a long conversation with an old girlfriend who disappeared 15 years ago and reappears; no nudity; alcohol use; no smoking or drugs; and, some deception and lying.
COMPLETE UNKNOWN is a character-driven drama. A man named Tom undergoing a midlife crisis with a boring government job and tense marriage has a birthday party. It dawns on Tom that one guest, a woman calling herself Anna, actually is an old girlfriend named Jennifer. Jennifer disappeared 15 years ago when they were attending college. Tom thought she had died. Tom wants to know what’s behind Jennifer’s strange disappearance. Eventually, they wind up spending a long night talking about Jennifer’s penchant for traveling the world under different identities.
COMPLETE UNKNOWN is a fascinating, largely two-actor movie. It keeps revealing more subtle surprises as it goes along. The actors are terrific, delivering fully realized emotional performances. The screenplay is brilliantly written after some initial formlessness. COMPLETE UNKNOWN is an acquired taste, so it’s not for everyone. However, except for foul language, its content is relatively inoffensive. Ultimately, Tom’s encounter with Jennifer leads him to agree to his wife’s desire to move to the West Coast so she can reinvent herself as a jewelry designer. So, COMPLETE UNKNOWN avoids the cliché of an illicit affair.