Tell Me Who I Am

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday October 18, 2019

'Tell Me Who I Am'
'Tell Me Who I Am'  

Identical twin brothers Marcus and Alex Lewis have written about their extraordinary — and painful — story before, but now filmmaker Ed Perkins brings the twins to the screen in a documentary that allows each of them to offer his own recollections directly to the camera before bringing the brothers together for a final act of healing.

The story behind "Tell Me Who I Am" is summarized in its very title. At first, the story is like something from a Movie of the Week: Alex, at age 18, suffered a motorcycle accident that left him with head trauma and wiped out all memory of his past. When he came to in the hospital, Alex recalls, the first person he saw — and the only person he knew — was Marcus; no one else, and nothing else, was familiar, including their parents, the large house and estate where the family resided, or the garden shed that the brothers had used as their bedroom since they were 14.

If the idea of teenage boys setting up shop in a garden shed sounds idyllic and free, just hold on a moment. As the narrative continues, and as Alex learns more about his family and circumstances, things start not quite adding up. The boys don't just sleep in the shed; they are not allowed into the house except when their parents wish them to be there. Their father is emotionally distant, even in the aftermath of Alex's accident; their mother, as if making up for this, is beside herself with concern that Alex should remember her and love her. Alex, a dutiful son, does his best to accommodate this wish, and becomes very close to her. But it's Marcus he's closest to, and Marcus upon whom he is most dependent; it's Marcus, after all, who takes the time to show him around and explain everything to him.

And that means everything: Their past, their complicated family dynamics, their lineage. It's not until fourteen years later, when the brothers are in their early 30s and their parents have both died, that the cracks in the story Marcus has been spinning start to pull apart and an uglier, far more sinister truth begins to emerge. The reasons for Marcus' deception are complicated, deep-rooted, and, once you understand them, compelling; but Alex, feeling unmoored and at a complete loss for the second time in his young life, is left shattered, empty, and mystified. Why has Marcus been lying to him — and what else has Marcus kept secret? Finally, in order for Alex to feel he has what he needs to put his life and identity back together, Marcus will have to surrender details that he's long shielded himself from by losing them away not only from his brother, but from himself. In protecting Alex, Marcus has also deprived him; but in denying Alex the full truth of their shared past, Marcus has also been pursuing that most primal of impulses, that of self-preservation. It's a conundrum that to even brotherly bonds and selfless love might not be able to break.

Much of the horror spills out unbidden, and Alex puts many of the pieces together himself, but it's only here — in this very film — that the brothers finally confront the past, and the truth, in all its brutality... and, in so doing, repair a two-decade rift.

"Tell Me Who I Am" is harrowing viewing, in part because of the sometimes self-conscious and highly dramatic style that Perkins adapts. While quite effective, and often even poetic, the film's manner of portraying the past — its illusions and its terrors alike — offsets the simplicity of the brothers' narratives with well-produced set pieces the re-enact key moments or illustrate moods and memories in ways that range from quotidian to nightmarish. From time to time one wonders how much of this artfulness has entered into the twins' own recollections; they speak, with few exceptions, in full and polished sentences, as if delivering lines from an unusually articulate script. But the moments of high, raw emotion still come across as genuine, and that in itself is enough to carry the film past its slightly over-mannered style.

"Tell Me Who I Am" is streaming now on Netflix.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.