More Questions, Less Answers

Patient: K-PAX

Profile: Half-hearted, retread-feeling psychodrama about a man who shows up in a New York mental hospital claiming to be from another planet. He confounds doctors, comforts patients and generally turns the established structure upside-down until the Chief throws a drinking fountain through the window and runs out into the meadow where the mothership is waiting for E.T. Think One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest meets Ordinary Peoplemeets Man Facing Southeast. Symptoms: This isn't all that terrible a film. It's just not a very good one. And it could have been. It's just that no one appears to have really wanted to try that hard. You've heard of the road less traveled? This is the Orange Crush on Judgment Day. The crazy people are not all that crazy: germaphobic Howard Hughes type, delusional Blanche Dubois type, bottle-thick-spectacled guy whose main problem seems to be that he is very kind and meticulous—LOCK UP AUNT BEA! This movie claims to be looking at a mystery, but it doesn't so much have twists and turns as well-marked junctions with plot points as big as Uranus. The movie's deep and profound conundrum is solved through parlor tricks (hypnosis), and the ending is so convenient—Is he from another planet? Sure. Is he a sad, deluded guy? Okay—the movie's message ends up being that the customer is always right. Diagnosis: Film about man from far-flung edge of the universe sadly lacking in anything universal to say. Prescription: Resist the urge to please the audience's urge to know. The mystery of your movie is about the mystery of all things. If you're not familiar with Man Facing Southeast—one of the Doctor's all-time favorites—it has the exact same premise but recognizes that such a film is more effective asking questions than giving answers. It isn't that forthcoming with information, and the information it does provide is often contradictory—kind of like dating. As we wonder about the nature of that character, we inevitably wonder about our own. Your story makes the profound point that we should be nice to people because we haven't been involved in a double homicide—the O.J. Simpson school of mental health. By making your story and character so accessible, you've lost the opportunity to deal in real mystery, and mystery is good. It's why some people pray the rosary and others lay siege to J.D. Salinger's house. Questions are all we have. Do ask. Don't tell.
 
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