Identity is a tightly
constructed film in the noir genre that plays with the theme of multiple
personality. Mangold has previously
directed Kate and Leopold; Girl, Interrupted; and Copland,
and he gets some excellent performances from John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda
Peet, and Clea Duvall. As Cusack says
in the "making of" documentary included with the DVD, the film is a
sophisticated adult thriller, and you don't see too many of those. After watching it several times, the
initially confusing mix of ideas transforms into a coherent narrative. The main story is set at a motel in the
middle of the desert, during the middle of the night, in the middle of an
endless downpour. Different characters
are thrown together, each with a secret.
Soon, one by one, they start to suffer violent deaths. But there is another concurrent plot, a
midnight judicial hearing in which the representatives of a man condemned to be
executed the following day make one final argument for an insanity
defense. A lawyer and psychologist
argue that their client has dissociative identity disorder and he did not
understand what he was doing when he committed multiple murders for which he
was sentenced to death. It takes most
of the film before we comes to understand the connection between the two
plots. Until we see the connection, it
looks as if the murder mystery has supernatural elements. When the connection becomes clear, they
mystery deepens. It transpires that the
events in the motel are going on in the mind of the killer, but, far from this
making the motel mystery irrelevant, it becomes all the more crucial to
discover which of the personalities is killing off the other ones.
While there is much to admire in
the artistry and craft that went into the making of this film, its use of the
theme of multiple personality is exploitative and unsatisfying. It relies essentially on clichéd and
derogatory images of the dangerous mentally ill. It takes highly distorted caricatures of multiple personality
solely for the purpose of a plot device.
This undermines the integrity of the story, and the ending even resorts
to a cheap horror tactic. Ultimately,
the film is a disappointment; the complexity of the story and the quality of
the acting are dragged down by this objectionable portrayal of insanity.
Mangold's commentary shows how much thought he puts in his direction, but it
also betrays the lack of understanding of multiple personality shown in the film.
© 2004 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of
the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at
Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online
Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine,
psychiatry and psychology.