Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, Mary McCormack
I am reminded of that infamously over-marketed bumper sticker "WWJD" whenever I see the film "K-PAX," starring Kevin Spacey as Prot, who is discovered wandering in Manhattan and, when assessed to be delusional, promptly detained in the Psychiatric Institute of Manhattan.
As a member of the clergy, I encounter people everyday who attempt to do what Jesus would do in their daily lives. They try to live compassionately, give freely, love unconditionally and offer their service with an open heart. Then, someone like Prot will enter their lives and all those Christian teachings will go down the drain. The person is too high maintenance, too different, too delusional, or too dangerous and so the person gets ignored, judged, ostracized or even locked up. I've seen this happen time and time again in churches and in my ten year history of working for an inpatient psychiatric unit.
In this case, Prot is assigned to the care of Dr. Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges), a burned out psychiatrist with a burning out home life. He feels unchallenged in his career, and unchallenged in treating clients. In meeting Prot, Powell is rejuvenated and proclaims Prot as the "most convincing delusional I've ever come across." Or is he?
Herein lies the main thrust of "K-PAX." Is Prot a deeply delusional man or is he, as he states, from a planet 1,000 light years away? The script, by Charles Leavitt, leaves a lasting impact because it wisely takes a middle road. In so many films these days, the audience is spoon-fed the appropriate emotional response. However, in "K-PAX," there's such strong evidence to support both arguments and the ending is so ambiguous that it is up to the audience to determine the truth.
"K-PAX" could, in fact, draw comparisons to the journey of Christ. Several scenes are set up that mirror images of Christ's teachings, the way he led apostles and the way he would be attracted to the wounded and the lost faithful.
Yet, it is in some of these settings that "K-PAX" begins to lessen its effectiveness. For example, Prot's scenes in the Psychiatric Institute often mirror those of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," but with much less impact. His fellow patients are almost stereotypical in their psychiatric presentation, and at times Prot's interactions with Institute staff border on the cliche'.
Likewise, the performance of Mary McCormack, as Dr. Powell's wife, is remarkably cliche' in her resistance to her husband's long work hours and obsession with his work. If doctor's wives were really always as unhappy as the movies seem to want to make them, I'd like to think there wouldn't be so many doctor's wives. Couldn't we just once see something more than a one-dimensional performance in such a role?
McCormack is the weak link in an otherwise excellent cast, including Spacey's wonderful performance as the intelligent "is he or isn't he psychotic?" Prot. Bridges has played the life-weary role before, but he does it well and definitely gets the job done. Alfre Woodard does her usual nice job in a smaller role, and the performances of the Institute's patients are, despite being written as a cliche', nicely performed.
Iain Softley directs "K-PAX" with a firm hand, never bending over to make the film an overly emotional, sympathetic film. It's a unique approach for this sort of film, but it works wonderfully and creates a more intriguing and inviting film because the audience is required to invest more time, thought and energy to the film.
"K-PAX" is a spiritual and intellectual wonderland of filmmaking. The film presents well constructed ideas and vividly brings them to life without drawing any firm conclusions. The end result is a film that challenges, entertains and provokes.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic