Reader be warned, I will below be speaking at liberty about Liam Neeson’s “Unknown”, and spoilers are guaranteed.
Movie in Brief
“Do you know how it feels to go insane, doctor? It’s like the difference between knowing who you are, and being told who you are.”
This line from Liam Neeson halfway through the film sums the movie up nicely, in my opinion. Early in the movie Neeson’s character, “Martin Harris”, is the victim of a car accident and loses a good portion of his memory (even this early strains of the “Bourne” trilogy can be heard). Waking up from a coma 4 days later, Neeson goes AMA and takes to the streets of Berlin (the setting for the film) to seek out his wife. Even with his memory in fragments, he manages to make it to the hotel where they were supposed to be staying, and crashes a cocktail party where he is reunited with his wife, who seems not to know who he is, and comes face to face with… himself. Another man is standing with his wife, nametag reading “Martin Harris”.
From that point on, most of the movie sees Martin 1 trying to prove his identity. It’s a hard task, Martin 2 has driver’s license, passport, even honeymoon pictures with Martin’s wife in hand. Even Neeson’s Martin starts to doubt his own sanity (as per the quote above).
After an attempt on his life at the hospital, Martin 1 becomes convinced that he is in fact not crazy, and that someone is seeking to replace him. He doesn’t know why, or how they convinced his wife to play along, but he does know he must find evidence to prove to the authorities that he is who he claims to be. Enlisting the help of a former East German agent and tracking down the woman who pulled him from the car accident in the beginning, Martin 1 dodges assassins at every corner while trying to establish contact with his wife to find out what’s going on.
His search for his identity takes him back to the airport, where he had left the briefcase containing his passport at the outset of the movie. Upon finding it, he parts company with Gina, his partner in this adventure and his savior. His wife had told him to wait for her there when he spoke to her alone in a photo gallery, but it isn’t her who shows up.
An “old friend” arrives at the airport and kidnaps Martin, taking him to a vacant parking garage where it is revealed that Martin 1 isn’t Martin at all – and neither is Martin 2. The whole thing is a cover, Neeson is actually an assassin sent to kill a scientist and steal his research (again, think “Bourne”). After Neeson’s accident his understudy was sent to take his place, but things got hairy when Neeson woke up believing he actually was Martin Harris, and not an assassin with a well-crafted false identity.
After escaping death yet again thanks to a timely intervention from Gina, Neeson’s memories come flooding back. “You should have let me drown,” Neeson’s character tells Gina upon realizing his true identity as a professional liar and killer.
“It’s what you do now that matters,” Gina replies.
The final 15 minutes of the film move along rather predictably. Neeson and Gina manage to save dozens of people, the scientist included, from a bomb which Neeson as an assassin had placed months earlier in anticipation. The bomb claims “Martin”’s “wife”, another assassin, but Martin 2 survives to duke it out with Neeson in the aftermath.
At the end of the movie we see Neeson and Gina (who it was earlier revealed was an illegal immigrant to Germany) looking satisfactorily at their newly minted fake ID’s, “Henry Taylor” and “Sophia Taylor”, respectively. They board a train in Berlin, and the credits roll.
After having some time to ponder this movie, 2 ideas really stick out in my mind: Identity and Justice.
Neeson’s plight to find out who he is, whether he is the person he thinks or not, is a theme that I think probably resonates with every single human being at some time or another. Ironically, the issue of identity is one I dealt with in a post not too long ago. Each and every one of us instinctively understands that we are unique and personal creatures – and all of us want an identity of our own, one that belongs to no one else. And for each of us that identity is not one merely inward and subjective; we require external witnesses to our identity for security and certainty. That’s why it can be so confusing and daunting when others question who we are.
The scene where Martin is reunited with his wife, only to have her act as though she does not know who he is, really resonated with me. To see the confusion on Martin 1’s face when his wife says she doesn’t know him, which then becomes sorrow and rage when Martin 2 introduces himself as her husband… it gave me shivers.
Have you ever had someone you cared about act as though they didn’t know you? As though all your time together, learning about one another, was just a figment of your imagination because they apparently didn’t know you at all? If you have you know that, far from being over dramatized, Neeson’s response was probably underplayed. But I digress.
The bottom line in the quest for identity is, as I have pointed out elsewhere, that the need to have an external, objective source of identity (passport, witness of friends, whatever) is real and good. As a Christian, I find mine in my baptism. It is to the font of living waters, Christ himself, that I look to for confirmation of who I am. And it’s a lot more comforting than the opinions of men or pieces of government issued paper, I can assure you of that.
I must say, the ending does make you feel really good. The guy you’ve been rooting for the whole time gets to save the day, get the girl, and enjoy his freedom. But then you notice the trail of bodies in the wake. Then it dawns on you, this movie has a supreme lack of justice. No, really, it was a terribly unfair ending. Here you have this man, who has lied, extorted, and killed for his own selfish purposes walking off into the sunset with a beautiful woman, presumably scot-free (barring a sequel, of course). Where’s the justice in that?
“But Tom, he made good in the end. He saved those people and killed the bad guys, remember? After all he’s been through, doesn’t he have the right to a happy and peaceful life now?”
Yeah, that was my first inclination at explaining it too. But you know what? That’s BS.
So he made good in the end, does that negate all the wrongs he did prior to getting bumped on the head? So he saved people, that’s good; but what about those who he killed prior to that? What about their mourning families who lost sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers… all because of greed? And as to all he went through, I consider that he brought that on himself.
At least Jason Bourne could say, “I was trying to do my job”. Neeson’s character can only say, “I was in it for myself.”
This line of thought will be continued in my next post.