K-Pax

KpaxThis drama stars Kevin Spacey as a mental patient named Prot who may or may not be from another world called K-Pax.  Psychiatrist Mark Powell, well played by Jeff Bridges, wants to find out, so he takes a special interest in Prot which affects his life and the lives of patients at the Psychiatric Institute of Manhattan.

Based on Gene Brewer’s 1995 novel, filmmakers use lighting, flashbacks, and redirection to accentuate the ambiguous points in the plot.  At first Mark treats unique situations surrounding Prot with cynicism and disbelief, but once he meet Prot his attitude gradually changes.  Prot answers all questions in a straightforward manner and even volunteers information that stretches the boundaries of perceived reality.

Spacey gets to spin a few stereotypes and cliches on aliens as well such as procreation, habitation, space travel and knowledge of the whole universe.  Prot even says, “I’m not going to leap out of your chest” – a reference to the first Alien film directed by Ridley Scott in 1979 – as is mistaken for “Data”, an intelligent life-like robot from the Star Trek Next Generation TV series and movies.

Mary McCormack (Deep Impact) plays Mark’s wife, Rachel, and gets at least one good scene with Prot, but mostly displays Mark’s noticeable neglect of his family.  Alfre Woodard’s underdeveloped role as Claudia Villars, Mark’s supervisor, doesn’t even come close to her true acting talents.

Prot is an intelligent being who shakes up the establishment of the Institute by alluding to extraterrestrial travel and presenting his ideas to the various patients.  These actions are predictably threatening to the staff, but once you hear what Prot is actually saying and what his true motives are even some of the staff members are willing to listen to him.

Patients’ accounts of Prot’s advice and behavior help bridge the gap between the staff and the patients.  Prot gives important clues to both patients and staff that can truly help them better their lives.  “Every being in the universe know right from wrong…all beings have the ability to cure themselves,” says Prot.  Inspirational material that you may or may not agree with, but still compelling and admirable.  This reviewer agrees with the material.

Prot’s knowledge and explanations absolutely floor Mark and his various colleagues.  Mark even breaks client confidentiality by asking a family acquaintances for explanations of Prot’s claims.  How can he possibly help Prot?  Does Prot need help?  It great to watch Bridges and Spacey in these intelligent battles of knowledge and explanation.  “Let’s jump right in,” says Mark which Prot follows with “be sure you can swim.”

Mark doesn’t get the usual sense of power and control that he’s used to which forces him to rethink his life and priorities.  Mark’s lost sense of control is especially evident when Prot makes a puzzling, yet announced “trip.”

Mark consumes himself with Prot’s predicament and troubling prediction Prot makes.  “It’s hard to imagine how you’ve made it this far,” says Prot.  How is Mark suppose to address that when Prot’s knowledge is seemingly far beyond his own?  Enter a unique technique Mark uses with Prot in the second half of the film that gets to the heart of all the facts and information presented.

A key date and time also factor into an engaging climax with powerful emotion.  Other key dates given by Prot are inconsequential at the time, but are extremely valuable to Mark by the end of the film.  At the end of the film, when Mark knows certain information he presents Prot with it and thinks he has the upper hand intellectually.  Prot surprises him yet again and helps Mark find the full value of this information.

Director Iain Softley (Wings of the Dove) helms a memorable film with high emotion and hopeful lessons.  You may be able to predict some parts of the plot, but overall the simplistic way you find answers to the unknown elements is very astounding.  These elements are explained to you, the audience, and all the characters (except Prot) at the same time, which is very unique because most plots keep the audience one step ahead of the characters.  Recommended (*** out of four stars) and rated PG-13 for language and a sequence of violent images.

Copyright © Michael Siebenaler

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