The Forgotten

The attorney general has at least the decency to be confused by bare breasts

"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting."

The mental gymnastics of "Memento" thrilled me enough that I am favorably disposed to any filmmaker playing games with my perception of the cherished human gift, memory. Joseph Ruben's ("Sleeping with the Enemy") "The Forgotten" by its very title promises a variation on the theme of our memory's tricky accuracy. The only trick I found, however, was the amazing sense of loss for an intriguing premise that forgets itself amid thriller cliches and "Twilight-Zone" titillations.

Julianne Moore's Telly Paretta lost her son to a plane crash. Everyone, including her shrink, Dr. Munce (Gary Sinese, "Human Stain"), tells her she did not have a son but has created a whole life for one she lost at his birth. Besides her extreme frustration is a nagging feeling that he is still alive. The film proceeds to show the determination of a mother to claim her child, a universal drive given the lie by the insistence that she is unusual for not eventually letting go.

The tension between her memory of the child and the world's insistence that she is delusional is the conceit on which the film bases its energy. The possibility that other forces are involved moves the film from the human challenge of sorting out memory into the complex sci-fi world of "A.I" with its robotic boy seeking the love of its human mom, a sort of reversal of "Forgotten," which toys with images of invulnerable aliens and vacuum-sucked disposals while "A.I." wrestles with Spielberg's deep-felt, childlike need to go home. Like "Memento, "A.I." takes different avenues to reach its denouement; "Forgotten goes nowhere except Telly's excessive crying amidst a director's poor choice of excessive flashbacks to the last moments with her departing child.

Anastas N. Michos's ("Mona Lisa Smile") cinematography is a strong element of the film. His titles helicopter tracking sequence of city building tops lends the right sense of maze-like memory map. Later, the repeated low-key scenes create the hidden atmosphere of secrets, and the high key of the flashbacks contrasts with a feeling of happier days.

Beyond the putative aliens there is no exploration of memory or, more importantly, the mother/child bond, just smiling reveries, tears, and screams of foul play accompanied by the usual suspects such as a rogue government agency for security. If "Forgotten" is meant to be an allegory about the intrusions of John Ashcroft and the feds into our private lives, it doesn't work, for he has at least the decency to be confused by bare breasts. The confusion of this film is about what makes good cinema. I guess Joseph Ruben just forgot.