Political Film Society - The Cell

PFS Film Review
The Cell


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

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The Cell
Howard Shore

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