An out of this world performance from a shining star, Kevin Spacey…
A man is admitted to a mental health ward claiming he is a visitor from another planet.
K-PAX Official Trailer #1 – Jeff Bridges Movie (2001) HD, Movieclips Trailer Vault and pics from Universal Pictures
Mental health is a subject that has fascinated Hollywood for years. Be it neuroses such as Melvin in As Good As It Gets (1997) or psychoses in the film, David and Lisa (1998). In both these films, these characters had commonly known signs and symptoms. But some films set in mental health hospitals have you wondering from the start, what if these individuals’ reality is true?
In both this film K-PAX (2001) and Shutter Island (2010), both lead characters have such overwhelming beliefs and convictions which are in conflict with the apparent reality, that you are not so sure. As both films on their second viewing will have more of an impact on you knowing the full story. Yet even then you have your doubts.
K-PAX has a similar theme to Shutter Island, where you find an individual in a situation where their mental health and their reality are questioned by an authority. And these men – Teddy (in Shutter Island) and Prot in K-PAX are put on trial as their characters with us, the audience as if we are in a jury deciding on what their reality is.
Both films are without the all-singing, all-dancing conclusion before the credits roll but with a never-ending debate. Surprisingly, both films were overlooked at the Academy Awards, with not even a nomination between them. And in spite of these roles being played by two spellbinding performances for these characters by Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island and this film K-PAX with Kevin Spacey.
In K-PAX we first meet Kevin Spacey’s then unnamed character at Grand Central Station. A beggar notices this man, alone in a beam of sunlight, standing still and the only person present wearing sunglasses. New York life goes on around him. A woman’s bag is snatched.
This man approaches the woman with concern and reaches his hand out. He is apprehended by the police who mistakenly believe he is the culprit. On questioning, by the police, the man says he has been travelling but didn’t arrive by train. He has no luggage. The police take him to the Psychiatric Institute of Manhattan for further assessment.
Working at the institute is Dr Mark Powell, a jaded, overworked psychiatrist who is asked to assess the man. He’s initially just a referral in a long list of apparently delusional cases. However, the man is believed to be unresponsive to antipsychotics. Additionally, he has no previous physical problems which would lead to his mental health deteriorating.
Powell meets with the man – who still has his sunglasses on – introducing himself as Prot. Prot says he comes from the planet K-PAX but he reassures the doctor that he’s not “going to jump out his chest”. With a wee reference to the Alien (1979) movie.
Prot gives a detailed description of this planet, its location, his life there, its mores and its ways of life and he does this whilst eating the whole of an apple (and he also eats bananas with the skin on). All this is said as a matter of fact in his calm, personable manner with no emotion.
Dr Powell is perplexed by this charismatic alien who states he can understand many languages – including English – and writes detailed notes on our world for his return home. So Prot is admitted as an inpatient for further assessment in a mental health ward.
While our alien friend believes he is without problems, Dr Powell has his own. He’s overworked with a young family. At a team meeting, the doctors and pharmacist insist Prot be medicated. Powell argues to meet more with Prot arguing he needs to assess him properly before resorting to medication if required. (Yay).
In the interviews with Prot, Dr Powell asks many questions about K-Pax, and Prot continues to answer him about K-Pax in his amiable, plausible way. Meanwhile, Prot is befriending his fellow inpatients, even those that the staff have difficulties with or cannot reach as they are so unwell. Only one patient, Bess is unresponsive to him.
All the inpatients believe Prot’s situation. Prot’s physical tests come back normal, however, he is noted to have a high sensitivity to UV light than normal. He has told Powell about his UV sensitivity, and that this results in his constant need to wear sunglasses. Prot tells that K-Pax is a darker place than Earth due to this.
Powell adjusts the lighting of his room, and in the next interview Prot takes off his sunglasses for the first time. Dr Powell talks with his astrophysicist brother-in-law about K-Pax telling him of Prot. Could Prot’s apparently wild proclamations be true?
One night, Dr Powell takes Prot out of the ward, in a lovely scene Prot’s awe and marvel in the little things in this world are seen. It’s almost like he’s seeing life for the first time. That night, Dr Powell introduces him to his brother-in-law and his astrophysicist colleagues, Prot’s explanation and information regarding K-Pax’s location is concurred by these men. All are astounded at his knowledge of this little known planet’s location.
Meanwhile, an inpatient has been told by Prot, that if he completes 3 tasks he will be cured. After completing this first task by this patient spotting a bluebird, there is uproar in the ward. And concern by the medical staff, believing Prot’s apparent belief in curing others to be a dangerous one.
Prot meanwhile has told all the inpatients he is returning home, and that only one of them can return with him, now giving a specific date and time. All of the patients hope to be selected. Dr Powell believes this date and time are significant to Prot.
After a trip to the psychiatrist’s home, Prot’s easy way of being charms Powell’s wife. Prot learns from her about the psychiatrist’s estranged son from his first marriage. The Powells’ children are also in awe when he talks to the dog and translates his barks.
We learn more about Prot that he can push a child on a swing without instruction.. and he is afraid of water as a hose is turned on as Prot shouts. Screams. Is terrified. The first real emotion he’s shown. To learn more about Prot, Powell decides on regression hypnosis where he believes he can find the truth… and instead gets another possible reality.
More on this movie is found in the usual ways. Prepare yourself for an emotional trip as you like Prot embark on his journey as the countdown starts leading to that significant date. The performances are first class from the A-listers to those playing Prot’s fellow inpatients. Spacey enthrals and delights you with his almost charming charismatic character from the start.
He gives a wonderful, stirring and thought-provoking performance, as Prot’s journey continues on the ward and with hypnosis. You sympathise with him from the time he is brought to the hospital. As previously a man who is apparently happy in his perceived reality and not harming anyone including himself. You question what is his reality and do you really have the right to take that reality from him. As you may have done in Shutter Island.
Jeff Bridges’ character at first seemed jaded almost fed up with his job, giving the performance that we’d all take in such a position. A mixture of disbelief and what if was felt by Powell as the whole ethos behind his profession was questioned and this continued throughout the film, as more of this patient’s reality was shared.
The other inpatients provided stellar support to the A-listers, each believable in their own situations. So watch this film and decide what you see as the reality behind this movie, after all as the song says – “they can’t take that away from you”.
Weeper Rating: 😦😦 😦😦😦 😦😦😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂🙂🙂 🙂 🙂🙂 /10
Medicine in the Movies Blogathon 2017, No 25
This was added to Charlene’s (Mostly) Classic Movie Reviews blogathon on Medicine in the Movies. I have no other reviews with this cast. I have more mental health related reviews, these are David and Lisa, One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest, Shutter Island and As Good As It Gets. Kevin Spacey stars in Heartburn. Jeff Bridges stars in Valerie, A Portrait of Valerie Perrine, Bad Times at the El Royale and Jagged Edge.