Christine (Nicole Kidman) wakes up every morning remembering nothing. Gradually, she pieces things together. Her walls are plastered with photos of her wedding day to help her remember that she is married to Ben (Colin Firth), the man she finds lying next to her in bed. Every drawer is labelled to help her find her clothes and downstairs is a list of her allergies, hobbies and interests. She spends her days working out who she is and simply passing the time until she goes back to sleep and forgets the day’s events all over again.
Her condition is a result of a traumatic accident that she suffered fourteen years ago and which, of course, she cannot remember. Unbeknown to Ben, she has begun a course of treatment with Dr Nash (Mark Strong) in an attempt to help her recall what really happened. He encourages her to keep a video diary of her daily experiences and soon she is beginning to question everything around her. Can she really trust the secretive Dr Nash? What about Ben, who claims to keep certain things hidden from her for the good of their marriage? Or are her concerns simply the products of a paranoid mind?
- What was your initial reaction to the film? Did you enjoy it and why, or why not?
- If you have read the novel on which the film is based, what did you think of the way in which the plot had been adapted? What difference might it make to someone’s viewing experience to know how the story ends? Would it detract from the experience and why, or why not?
- Several critics have compared the film to the work of Alfred Hitchcock. Why might this be the case, and if you have seen any of Hitchcock’s films, is the comparison justified? How closely did Before I Go to Sleep follow the conventions of a typical thriller film?
- What did you think of the casting of the three main characters? Why might the production team have chosen those particular actors to play the roles?
- What techniques were used to build tension during the film? Which scenes in particular did you find the most ‘thrilling’? Why do we enjoy watching films that make us feel uncomfortable?
‘I wish I wasn’t so frightened all of the time.’ – Christine
- How successful was Nicole Kidman in conveying Christine’s complex emotions? Did you feel sympathy for her character and why, or why not? Did this change over the course of the film, and in what ways?
- What did you think of the film’s ending? How did it make you feel? Would you describe it as ‘moving’ and why, or why not?
- How did the film explore notions of marriage, motherhood and broken families? Despite the film’s rather far-fetched plot, are there any elements of the family situation depicted that people in your own community might find that they could relate to?
- To what extent did you feel that the violent scenes were in the service of the story? Why might we enjoy watching films that depict violent or troubling events? How does our society as a whole view on-screen representations of violence?
‘I don’t think I’m the kind of person who would cheat.’ – Christine
- What does the film have to say about self-knowledge and ‘the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of our lives’? How does Christine go about making sense of who she is without the benefit of memory? How do we go about defining ourselves as we change with time?
- Ben claims to hide parts of the truth from Christine in order to protect her and to help himself cope. Within a married relationship is keeping secrets ever justified and why, or why not? How do people in your own community define the difference between ‘white lies’, secrets and untruths?
‘I can’t go on treating you. It wouldn’t be ethical.’ – Dr Nash
- What did you think of the character of Dr Nash? How did your response to him change over the course of the film? What reflection, if any, did the film offer on the ethics of treating patients with delicate mental states?
- How do we go about deciding who we can trust? What might help us to make these decisions? How might your life be different if you were unable to ever truly trust someone? By contrast, why might it be appealing to believe in a being that is always ultimately trustworthy?
‘You’re free.’ – Dr Nash to Christine
- In what ways does Christine achieve freedom at the end of the film? To what extent does this freedom remain fragile or ambiguous? How might we each try to find freedom in our own lives? What are the obstacles to this, and how can we overcome them?