The only thing he remembered as he opened his eyes after waking up was Marcus, his identical twin brother. Nothing about his eccentric parents, loving friends or the enormous, wealthy Victorian home where the boys live in a small lodge, next to the house. In the following years, Alex had to rebuild his life step by step, filling in the blanks of his past relying entirely on Marcus’ accords. What he did not know is that his brother used his naïve, unquestioning trust to paint him a past that never happened, concealing a gut-wrenching trauma in their childhood.
That’s the premise of Tell Me Who I Am, a Netflix documentary directed by Ed Perkins and starring Alex and Marcus Lewis themselves. It’s about brotherhood and the darkest, guiltiest human relationships, posing questions about the morality of lying, and the question of what it is that human bonds can survive and reconcile.
Marcus feels that whilst Alex believes the ideal fantasy life he constructed for him, he too can believe that what happened was just a nightmare and nothing else. Right up until the truth finally comes out when they are thirty-two, leaving Alex with a shattered world, having to rebuild his life for the third time, and utterly betrayed by the one person he trusted unconditionally.
The cinematography constructs an atmosphere that fits the story’s darkness perfectly. Marcus and Alex talk to the camera in an empty, dark room barely lit by cold lights, their voices are soft. With eerie music, the scenes of the interviews are tied together with old photographs, snapshots of the giant, dark Victorian house where they grew up on the English countryside. It is deep into autumn, the sun is setting behind the bare, claw-like branches of the trees, and the lodge where the boys set up their little empire, is dark at night, stuffed to the brim with curious-looking artefacts and toys.
This is a documentary, so the men are not playing characters. Yet the direction towards the end makes the viewer doubt its authenticity. The documentary is divided into three parts. The first part is about Alex and his perception of the events, portraying him, now 54, as a more naïve, and somewhat unprotected, boyish man. The second part is about Marcus, who reveals the truth about their childhood, coming through as hardened, disillusioned and endlessly guilty, battling his own demons. So far they are authentic, people who have been through exceptional difficulties that would wrench any soul.
Unfortunately, the final act feels artificial. Each has moved on with their lives, started families, reconciled their relationship, but have never had the honest discussion about the reasons for Marcus’ actions. The camera shows them in the same empty room, at a table, facing each other, having probably the most important and most intimate discussions of their lives in front of a camera. It is moving and it is shocking, but it is hard to imagine that people with so much emotional baggage would be able to be so open, honest and articulate on camera, especially given the fact that they have been avoiding this discussion for decades. Nevertheless, Tell Me Who I Am is a movie definitely worth your time. It is not an easy watch, but it will provoke new questions with complex, or no, answers at all.
Image credit: U.S. Army via Health.mil