Do you remember The Forgotten? It’s a 2004 psychological thriller starring Julianne Moore, Dominic West, Gary Sinise, and Alfre Woodard, all well-known and respected actors. (And Nicole Kidman was originally going to star in the film!) Joseph Ruben directed the film, and he knew his way around a psychological thriller, having previously directed The Stepfather (1987), Sleeping with the Enemy (1991), and The Good Son (1993). It also opened #1 at the box office the weekend it premiered.
Yet the film did not have staying power, and it has earned only a 32% positive rating on the Rotten Tomatoes site. WatchMojo included The Forgotten in its lists of “Top 10 Worst Movie Endings” in 2013 and “Another Top 10 Worst Movie Plot Twists” in 2018. Maybe not the best way to be remembered… 😉
No plot spoilers here about how this movie went off the rails, but the plot starts out pretty simple: Telly Paretta (Julianne Moore) is trying to cope with her grief over her young son’s death, only to be told one day that her son never existed. She sets out on a quest to understand why.
Had you forgotten this movie existed? Here’s a film trailer to refresh:
So why revisit the forgotten The Forgotten? You guessed it! Because it has a library scene!
First stop, library
Nineteen minutes into the film, Telly goes to the public library, right after her therapist and husband team up to tell her that her son never existed. Understandably upset, Telly rushes out to her car. Next stop? The library! (Would that be a normal first choice after being told one’s child never existed? Does this mark the first moment the movie becomes an exercise in suspension of disbelief? Discuss.)
An overhead shot of the public library reveals several patrons in the library, and Telly makes a beeline straight to the front desk. There look to be three different librarians behind the desk, one at a computer, and two in different spots along the front counter. The librarian Telly approaches, a younger White woman, looks to be filing cards.
Telly: I need to see some newspapers, daily papers from 14 months ago.
The librarian [after getting a clipboard]: You need to fill this out.
No greetings, no follow-up questions, no chatter about the weather. Not much of a reference interview. Odd, no? Therefore, it didn’t surprise me to see that the librarian continues filing while Telly roots around her purse. Telly is not finding what she is looking for — her library card? — and she is clearly getting upset.
Sensing something is wrong, the librarian pauses and puts her hand on top of Telly’s hands.
Librarian: What papers do you need?
Finally, a flicker of human connection!
Next, we see the obligatory closeup of microfilm on a screen reader. The movie does get this detail right. Newspaper archives are almost always stored on microfilm, at least back when this film was set; it’s more common now for newspaper archives to be digitally accessible.
The camera then pulls back to show that Telly is going through the microfilm, and the librarian is standing behind her. But again, Telly is not finding what she needs. There are no stories about her son’s accident.
Telly: How could…? How could it not be in any of these?
Librarian: You sure of the date? What are you trying to find?
Telly [quoting from prior headlines]: ‘Six Brooklyn children feared dead in missing plane’ … I have to go.
The scene lasts a little over a minute long.
A closer look at the reel librarian
Katie Cooper played the Library Clerk, and she is younger, with dark, curly, shoulder-length hair. She wears no glasses, and she’s dressed in a cowl-necked black sweater. We first see from behind, as Telly walks to the desk, and then we get a closeup of her well-groomed, clear-coated nails as she places her hand atop Telly’s hand. We only get a few glimpses of her face, but she seems generally empathetic toward Telly.
This reel librarian’s role, primarily, is to serve as an Information Provider — even though she doesn’t actually provide the information that Telly is seeking! Rather, the absence of that information confirms what Telly most fears, that there is a conspiracy behind the disappearance and subsequent erasure of her son. (This film really is the definition of gaslighting.)
At 38 minutes into the film, Telly confesses her theory of abduction to Ash (Dominic West), another parent who lost a child in the same accident that her son died in.
Everyone besides us believes they never existed. What could do something like that? Who could erase our kids? Every picture of them gone. Every newspaper article gone. Every memory gone.
So that brief library scene turned out to be vital in the plot, as Telly remembers and references the (missing) evidence of the newspapers as part of her abduction theory!
The Forgotten. Dir. Joseph Ruben. Perf. Julianne Moore, Dominic West, Anthony Edwards. Columbia, 2004.
“The Forgotten (2004): Trivia.” Internet Movie Database, n.d.