As he remembers who he was, he discovers who he is. And who he really loves.
A gentle gay love story, Gone, But Not Forgotten explores how two lovers come to realize that they must confront their pasts before they can build a future together.
Facts of the Case
Since the tragic death of their parents, Drew (newcomer Aaron Orr) has worked for his brother as a forest ranger in the small but picturesque mountain town of Summit Valley. When he rescues a handsome young man (newcomer Matthew Montgomery) from a mountain accident, his aimless life takes on new direction. The man he has rescued has lost his memory due to the psychological trauma of the accident, and his only knowledge of himself is his first name—Mark—and the brief flashes of his life that come to him in nightmares.
Even as he and Drew fall in love, Mark is troubled by his ignorance of his own identity. He can't settle comfortably into a new existence as Drew's acknowledged lover. When he is finally given the opportunity to return to his former life and find answers to the questions that bedevil him, he realizes that he has no choice but to discover what lies in his past—and what led him to the mountainside where Drew rescued him on that fateful rainy night. For Drew, on the other hand, the past is not an undiscovered country but a constant shadow, which he will also have to come to terms with before he can move on with his life…a life that he does not want to accept may not include Mark.
Gone, But Not Forgotten is a low-key romance of quiet charm. What writer-director Michael D. Akers calls the "credit-card-sized budget" is evident in a certain amateurish quality to the acting and filming, but the slightly naïve style adds to the warmth and sweetness of the film. The film is revolutionary in its quiet way by not having an overt agenda to push: Akers says in his notes to the DVD that he wanted to make a film that he "would have wanted to see as a gay kid in Amish country…a sweet love story about two hot guys," without the edginess of the films about AIDS or coming out that he had grown up watching. Sure enough, in Gone, But Not Forgotten AIDS is not even a shadow on the gorgeous mountain horizon. Drew's sexuality is, we gradually come to learn, already known and accepted by his family and the local doctor, who seems to represent the townspeople in this six-actor film. Even Drew's devoutly Christian sister-in-law accepts him and makes no effort to change him or preach to him. It's refreshing to see a gay-themed film that has no fights to pick; for this reason, what would be an old-fashioned story in a mainstream film becomes remarkable—a relatively straightforward tale of finding love, losing love, and trying to regain love. The main antagonist in this film isn't religion, homophobia, AIDS, or even the sole truly bitchy character; it's ignorance of, or denial of, one's identity. Mark does show discomfort at the idea of being perceived as gay, but his unease is inextricably linked to the bigger question about his identity as a whole. He is reluctant to be categorized by townspeople when he himself has no idea who he really is.
Sexual identity is just one facet of the identity Mark seeks. Mark's search for himself leads him on a quest to discover not only his sexual orientation, but also his past, his career, his talents, even his full name. Drew, who saved his life but can't answer his questions, has his own issues to confront. Harboring unreasonable guilt over his parents' death, he has resigned himself to being a disappointment to his brother, who has essentially taken on the role of father to him. Even the warm, motherly town doctor seems to act as a parent toward Drew, another indication of his refusal to take on full adult responsibilities in his life. Clearly Mark is not the only one in need of rescuing, and the movie maintains interest after the two leads are parted by following both as they struggle separately toward self-actualization. That hefty term may make the process sound dry, but the story maintains a sense of humor, as do its characters. Akers wisely doesn't let the movie take itself too seriously, so that even as the story takes a darker turn it never becomes over-earnest.
The presence of themes of identity and memory as they come to bear on falling in love couldn't help but remind me of Mulholland Drive, which coincidentally also examined these issues as they arose in a gay romance. But the gentle, pensive world of Gone, But Not Forgotten will never be mistaken for the hallucinatory universe of David Lynch, even if the gorgeous mountain scenery (filmed at Yosemite) does recall a more benign Twin Peaks. Gone, But Not Forgotten offers a persuasive view of how anxieties about identity might play out in real-life relationships. The questions Drew and Mark face are questions that emerge for all lovers, gay and straight: How much can I trust what I think I know of this person I love? What if I'm not the person he or she thinks I am? Is being with this person the life I want, or is it safer to live in the past? Gone, But Not Forgotten takes the optimistic perspective that questioning a relationship this way can ultimately strengthen, not destroy, it.
Extras are modest, but more than I expected given the microscopic budget of this enterprise. There are three short but amusing outtake sequences; a trailer; and a commentary with Akers, his co-producer, and actor Matthew Montgomery. If the film is low key, the commentary is even more so. The three men share joking reminiscences about the filming and anecdotes about the improvisational filming methods necessitated by the budget. (My favorite was learning that the two actors playing forest rangers had to share one hat, which was juggled from shot to shot to create the illusion of a hat for each character.) I personally delight in such behind-the-scenes tidbits, but viewers hoping for greater insight into the characters and story will come away not much enlightened.
Visuals, like the extras, are better than I anticipated, considering the thinness of the budget. The film is shot on video, but that's not so obvious as to be a distraction for long. The color is a bit flat, and scenes with low lighting show considerable grain, but this is still a pretty movie to look at: The photography nicely highlights the natural beauty of both Yosemite and the leading men. Audio is clear but uneven in volume; dialogue sometimes dips down to almost inaudible levels but rings out loudly the next second. At other times Shaun Cromwell's musical score—in itself pleasant and easygoing—is loud enough to threaten to overpower the dialogue. Overall, though, the care that obviously went into the filming does much to mitigate the limitations of working with a crew of six (!) and a budget that wouldn't stretch to two ranger hats.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The low-budget, amateurish quality of the film may put off some viewers. The inexperience of the actors is sometimes painfully evident, which may be the reason I didn't find the chemistry between the two leads entirely convincing, despite a steamy (but tasteful) lovemaking scene. Moreover, the languid pacing will send some viewers into a restful sleep, aided by the laid-back piano and acoustic guitar on the soundtrack. Cynics should stay far, far away from Summit Valley.
Judging by the rave reviews Gone, But Not Forgotten has received at film festivals, Akers may never again have to work on such a tight budget, and I look forward to seeing what he will be able to accomplish with more resources. Both as a writer and as an editor, he shows intelligence and style. Despite its limitations, this is a movie whose heart is in the right place—on its sleeve, in fact—and its naïve style is part of what makes it refreshing.
Gone, But Not Forgotten will definitely appeal most to its target audience, but the sweetness and honesty of this film give it crossover possibilities. It's definitely worth a rental for the curious, and I predict that it will become a staple in Queer Cinema DVD libraries, especially for viewers with romantic souls.
All parties are hereby free to go—unless they wish to sentence themselves to a few weeks' detention at the Summit Valley forestry station.
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