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Monday, February 18 , 2019, 10:53 pm | Fair and Breezy 48º


Cinema in Focus: ‘Unknown’ a Quest to Find Missing Identity

This fascinating and suspenseful film explores our desire to know one's true self

3 Stars — Suspenseful

Discovering one’s true identity can be a difficult task. Having become a certain type of person, there may be moments in which our soul rejects that definition and chooses to be different. This is the premise of Jaume Collet-Serra’s fascinating film Unknown.

Based on the novel Out of My Head by Didier Van Cauwel, the screenplay was written by Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell. Their combined creation focuses on the identity of Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson).

Having arrived in Berlin with his beautiful wife, Elizabeth (January Jones), Martin accidentally leaves his briefcase at the airport and, without telling his wife, jumps back into a cab to retrieve it. But on his journey to the airport, he is in an accident that leaves him in a four-day coma. Upon regaining consciousness, he has difficulty remembering who he is, but he does have memory flashes of his passionate marriage with Elizabeth.

Soon he remembers that he has come to Berlin to present his research at a conference on genetically altered plants. But when he goes to the conference and finds his wife, she appears not to know who he is and another man (Aidan Quinn) has taken his identity. Having been told by his physician that he may have difficulty remembering who he really is, Martin is confused and struggles to discover the truth.

Also present at this conference is the leading expert on genetic engineering, Professor Bressler (Sebastian Koch) and his benefactor, the wealthy Prince Shada (Mido Hamada). As a progressive leader of the Arabic world, the extremists in his nation have made many attempts on Prince Shada’s life. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Martin’s stolen identity has something to do with the Prince.

We won’t spoil the mystery as Martin gains the help of a beautiful, young illegal immigrant from Eastern Europe named Gina (Diane Kruger) and the assistance of the former East German spy named Ernst Jurgen (Bruno Ganz), but the underlying premise is a fascinating one and worthy of discussion.

The brain injury Martin experienced in the accident leaves him struggling. That he is involved in something sinister is obvious. That he must do something about that evil in order to stop it is compelling, both for him and Gina. But it is this very struggle that unveils the secret of Martin’s life.

When we become a part of something that causes us to turn off our consciences and turn away from our souls, we begin compromising our identity and end up losing ourselves. But if the opportunity to become someone else occurs, what would we choose to do? And if we are changed, then who does that mean we really are?

To “know” one’s self is a very human quest, and Martin’s suspenseful struggle to regain his identity in Unknown shows how driven we are to know who we truly are.


» 1. Similar to the quest of Jason in the film The Bourne Identity, Martin is running from his past as he attempts to be born anew. Do you believe a person who has “sold their soul” to become an assassin would be able to regain his or her soul? What would it take for that to happen — a hit on the head, or some other rebirth?

» 2. Sometimes we do things that cause us to feel as though we don’t really know who we are. Have you ever experienced that? What did you do to find your true self?

» 3. The partnership that Gina and Martin create takes them into the future with fake identities as they flee from their personal pasts. Do you believe such a relationship can work? Why or why not?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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