Tell Me Who I Am ★★★½

There have been any number of films about the invention of self-identity — about how, as Kurt Vonnegut might put it, people are who they pretend to be. It was a universal phenomenon long before the likes of Jay Gatsby turned it into an American pastime, or the internet made us all into avatars of ourselves; the ability to refract one’s own image is an intrinsic part of the human experience, even (or especially) when it’s expressed through subconscious forces like denial, repression, and personal bias.

Far less common, however, are films that explore the nature and ethics of inventing an identity for someone else; from “Gaslight” to “Memento,” most of the more obvious examples hinge on clear sociopathy or the sort of memory failures that you only tend to see in the movies. And yet, this is something we do to each other all the time in real life, often without malice. From the moment we’re born and our parents begin shaping the world into their own kind of sense, who we are is to some degree inextricable from who we are told that we are. People tend to see themselves through the light that others reflect back at them, and none of us are perfect mirrors — not even identical twins.

It’s hard to imagine a more crystalline look at the suppleness of someone’s self-identity (and the moral dilemma of someone else choosing to overwrite it) than Eli Perkins’ “Tell Me Who I Am,” a documentary so harrowing and horrific that it can only bear to scratch at the surface of its remarkable story. It begins with a terrible accident in the English countryside circa 1982, and the irresistible silver lining that a teenage boy saw wrapped around it.

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