Between the twisted psychologies of Brighton Rock or the secretive assignment of The American, Rowan Joffe is the ideal screenwrirter to untangle the near-unfilmable web of deception weaved by S. J. Watson’s bestseller, Before I Go to Sleep and navigate the fragmented and fragile mind of its protagonist, Christine Lucas in a way that makes cinematic sense.
While Joffe’s direction swerves tonally in the film’s opening and closing scenes, his adaptation of the novel is astonishing throughout, establishing a striking visual sense of the dislocation felt by a woman who wakes every day remembering nothing of her past, until new, terrifying truths emerge about the traumatic accident that left her this way, forcing her to question everyone around her.
The book tells its story in repetitive action and imagery, a structural conceit which Joffe has stripped back to build an effective amount of intrigue and confusion without sacrificing the barreling forward momentum of a breathless thriller. Indeed, the twists come flying thicker and faster on screen, speeding over any of the book’s glaring implausabilities that haven’t already been removed in the screenplay. With a canny sense of genre mechanics and how the story’s many manipulations play differently on screen to the page, Joffe has streamlined the intricacies of this puzzle piece so that the ostensible, subjective story of a damaged mind is never too far ahead or behind the truth of what is actually going on. Through a more selective use of semi-memories and flashbacks, the duality of each of the trio of characters is heightened, giving the big reveals higher shock value and Christine’s search for answers an increased sense of urgency.
I sat down with Joffe to discuss the challenges of adaptation and crafting an edge of your seat thriller.
First published by Vérité Film Magazine on September 5, 2014
To watch the interview in full quality, select the 1080 setting in YouTube