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This shape-shifting tale of the perils and pleasures of self-reinvention begins at a dinner party, when Tom's (Michael Shannon) co-worker arrives with an intriguing date named Alice (Rachel Weisz). Tom is convinced he knows her, but she refuses to acknowledge their history. And when Alice makes a hasty exit, Tom sets off after her. What follows is an all-night odyssey shared by two people, one needing to change his life, the other questioning how to stop changing.Written by
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Performed by The Chemical Brothers (as Chemical Brothers) featuring Q-Tip (as Q Tip)
Written by Q-Tip (as Kamaal Ibn John Fareed), Tom Rowlands (as Thomas Rowlands), Ed Simons (as Edmund Simons)
Courtesy of Astralwerks Records
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Smart and intriguing, this film will make you think about changing your life.
Alice (Rachel Weisz) re-enters Tom's (Michael Shannon) life after disappearing for fifteen years. Only, she's hard to identify because of the multiple personalities she has assumed in those years. She remains the titular heroine of Complete Unknown, and she is a stranger to the end of this complicated and accomplished indie.
Don't come to this absorbing adventure seeking Walter Mitty thrills: Alice subtly changes her personal shape and doesn't burden us with cheap melodrama or even sexual romance. Rather the emphasis is on discovery: As Tom peels back the layers of her personalities and discovers her, he is drawn into discovery of himself and his own unfulfilled life. Although she is the center of the exploration, he is close behind, like all of us afraid to look inside ourselves to see the multiple possibilities for life change.
Complete Unknown exposes the yearning we may all have to live other lives. In Alice's case, she may have lived as a magician's assistant and a researcher, and more in between. But actually whatever roles she has taken, she cannot efface her core self as her return to observe her parents and see Tom again shows.
In a bizarre occurrence on the street, Tom helps a fallen old lady (Kathy Bates) by pretending to be an osteopath, rather enjoying how Alice has roped him into to assuming the new role. At this point, director Joshua Marston shifts from the mystery of Alice's identity to the mystery of who Tom is or wants to be.
He becomes the one whose identity we also speculate about. Whether or not he decides to leave his unfulfilled job to go with his wife to California for her professional study opportunity becomes just as intriguing as Alice's many lives. The film is figuratively blunt about the power of changing one's life, for good or ill.
Marston has masterfully made us question our own identities and our use of talents and pursuit of other lives than the ones we have stuck ourselves in. By extension, Complete Unknown may be a discourse on the ability of art such as movies to take us into lives heretofore unavailable to us.
Anyway, this is a film for thinking people who may want to speculate on the lives they could have and the life they have.
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