Political Film Society - Newsletter #81 - September 11, 2000

September 11, 2000


The CellA plot involving the pursuit of a serial killer is not uncommon among the many suspense movies for those who like to bite their nails when they run out of popcorn. This year’s best addition to the genre so far is The Cell, directed by Tarsem Singh. Carl Rudolph Stargher (played by Vincent D’Onofrio) is an extreme schizophrenic who abducts attractive coeds to a glass-enclosed prison-like cell, eight feet in depth, width, and height, located in an underground room at a deserted farmhouse near Bakersfield. A few gallons of water are released into the cell at intervals for forty hours until the women drown, after which he bleaches the bodies and dresses them as dolls before dumping them. As the number of bodies increases to seven, and the interval of time between the deaths shortens considerably, FBI agent Peter Novak (played by Vince Vaughn) concludes that the serial killer wants to be caught to end his agony. But by the time Novak tracks Stargher down, he has become irreversibly comatose, and one woman is still in the cell, only a few hours away from certain death. Novice, thus, has a dilemma -- how to save the woman from death when the only person who knows her whereabouts is incapable of human speech. As the tagline hints, "This summer . . . enter the mind of a killer." The solution to the problem is to place the killer into Campbell Center, a research division of a large pharmaceutical company, where psychiatrists have for eighteen months been experimenting with a brain-intrusion mapping device (the actual site is the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla). An empathetic child therapist, Catharine Deane (played by Jennifer Lopez), has been trying to enter the mind of a catatonic billionaire’s son, hoping that she will so comfort him from a past trauma that she can reverse the psychological blockage producing his comatose state. However, the procedure is dangerous; there is a chance that the schizophrenic’s fantasy will suck her mind into a catatonic state. Novak, upon learning of the research institute, asks Catherine to enter Stargher’s mind in order to ascertain where the coed is imprisoned. The Cell’s incredible exploration through the mind recalls the journey through the body in Fantastic Voyage (1966) and consists of computer animations and quasi-computerized sets of incredible beauty, some resembling accounts of near-death light effects, though of course other scenes portray horrors; William Blake’s drawings serve as part of the inspiration. The happy ending is a foregone conclusion, but the voyage into Jungian archetypes is fascinating and spellbinding. We learn that Stargher tripped out because his sadistic father nearly drowned him deliberately at the age of six, so the choice of coed victims rather than six-year-old boys appears to contradict the logic of the story.

En passant, filmviewers learn two important facts. First, two common neurological medicines are prescribed nowadays to control schizophrenia, though the serial killer has Whalen’s Infraction, for which there is no cure and indescribable agony after the effects of these medicines wear off. Second, the reason why extreme schizophrenics engage in serial killing appears to be child abuse so traumatic as to rearrange a child’s neurological functioning, and we briefly view the abusive father of the serial killer to illustrate the point. As an effort to demonstrate the adverse consequences of child abuse and the important need to have abused children adopted by foster parents, the Political Film Society has nominated The Cell for best film on nonviolence and peace. MH

X-MenAs a comic book, X-Men has the distinction of being very political. Directed by Bryan Singer, the film X-Men begins in the Warsaw ghetto of 1944, with an incident in which Magneto as a child (played by Brett Morris) overpowers Nazi police but otherwise is unable to stop the Holocaust. The tagline of the movie, "Join the evolution," informs those who have not read the comic book that some humans have mutated to have extraordinary powers, for example having the strength of wild animals. Fast forward to the United States "in the very near future," when Senator Kelly (played by Bruce Davison) insists that the new minority of human mutants (perhaps called homo superiorus) must be tracked down, and he proposes measures that would be a replay of the McCarthy era. Meanwhile, Professor Charles Francis Xavier (played by Patrick Stewart), the world's most powerful telepath, leads mutants wanting to serve mankind; he establishes a School for Gifted Youngsters to train mutant children how to use their powers to promote peace. Erik Magnus Lehnsherr, aka Magneto (played by Ian McKellen), wants to rule over ordinary humans; he forms the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants to ensure that the Holocaust will not recur. The two mutant clans, thus, try different ways of coping with the McCarthyism of the day. Magneto’s clan unleashes violence, contrary to the precepts of the professor’s clan, which in turn stops the violence with his team of X-Men. By the end of the film, the Senator realizes that there are good mutants and rescinds his policy of persecution. Although the fascinating fight sequences in the film by unusual characters (one with eyes that are laser beams, another who changes weather, yet another exhibiting telekinesis, and the like) will dazzle or even distract most filmviewers, the story clearly shows the stupidity of intolerance and violence against persecuted minorities. Accordingly, the Political Film Society has nominated X-Men for two awards -- best film on human rights and best film on nonviolence and peace. MH