K-PAX is a science fiction movie which blends mystery and drama. Thanks to its engaging and clever plot it has over the years insinuated its way on to my personal favorites shelf.
Review by Wasa
November 23, 2008
Director: Iain Softley
novel: Gene Brewer
screenplay: Charles Leavitt
Kevin Spacey as Prot
Jeff Bridges as Dr. Mark Powell
Alfre Woodard as Dr. Claudia Villars
David Patrick Kelly as Howie
Saul Williams as Ernie
Celia Weston as Doris Archer
Dr. Mark Powell: What would you say if I told you I think you're as human as I am?
The story begins when a man turns up, out of thin air, at the New York's Grand Central Station. He has a beard of three days, messy hair, sunglasses and a little smile in the corner of his mouth. As he tries to help a mugged woman, he gets arrested by mistake. Without the papers, but with a wild story instead - he calls himself Prot (rhymes with "boat") and claims that he comes from the planet K-PAX - he winds up at the Psychiatric Institute of Manhattan.
Dr. Mark Powell gets the case. The doctor comes across as a level-headed "business-as-usual" pro. He also carries that attitude into his private life, so there is a strong sense of detachment about him. However, Prot's off-the-wall story intrigues him well enough to try to reach out to the man who is hiding behind the alien's facade. Prot's answers to the doctor's questions are logical and insightful. Add to that the fact that Prot seems privy to the most recent, and as yet undisclosed, breakthroughs in astrophysics, which raises the most obvious question: what if Prot is telling the truth? What if he is from K-PAX?
The scene of their first "meeting" highlights the best of humor and wackiness emblematic of this movie. Prot is in the examination room which has a false mirror built in one of its walls. When Dr. Powell passes by, he stops for a moment to look at his patient from outside. Prot turns around to face him as though he knew that the doctor was standing there. He is smiling.
Doctor moves forward a bit and for the briefest moment the boundaries between his reflection on the glass and the outlines of Prot's face, which we see through the glass, are gone. It is as though the two faces had merged into one! Dr. Powell squints bemusedly and tilts his head from side to side as he tries to figure out whether the patient is really looking at him. Bridges and Spacey are just brilliant in this scene.
There are a number of things about Prot that just don't add up. First, he is calm, intelligent and polite. If that is what being delusional is all about, heck, I'll take that any day of the week! What he says make for a perfectly coherent though fantastical story about an alien who happened to find itself on Earth.
The thing that makes him really different is his way with people - he listens to them. The other patients, Ernie, Howie, Miss Archer... open up to him. They talk to Prot about their lives, fears and wishes, and as the story unfolds they start to connect to one another, too.
Prot's relationship with Dr. Powell also transforms from a patient-doctor relation to friendship. Director Iain Softley comments on that in "Making of K-PAX": "One of great thing we see in the film is encounter of the two characters. Getting to know each other, coming to respect and feel affection for each other on camera. And in a way, I think, it was perhaps happening during the shooting of the film. Because I don't think they know each other very well before we start making the film."
Prot has a transformative effect on everybody he comes across, patients as well as orderlies. Furthermore, it seems that they all believe his story. Except Dr. Powell, that is. But even his skepticism begins to show fissures. Prot does not try to convince anybody. He remains self-possessed, courteous, smiling.
However, we soon learn that there is more to him that he lets on. That is the moment when the movie takes on darker, more ominous undertones, and the pretty much light-hearted drama makes a U-turn. We learn that Prot is leaving the planet, or so he says, in a few days' time. And he seems pretty confident. This upsets the doctor, whose professional instinct tells him that Prot is holding out on him. The countdown has started, and Dr. Powell fears the worst.
K-PAX has lots of strong points starting with the beautiful opening score to Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey's excellent performances - but you wouldn't expect anything less than that from these two biggies.
There are also two equally believable plot lines in the movie. You can watch it as a real-life mental ward drama about a really disturbed man, or a science fiction yarn on the classic alien-come-to-Earth theme. Right up to the end, we can't tell which of the plot lines is "true".
Lighting has a special place in the movie. It effectively underscores the changes of mood and pace. There is a really clever "beam of light" motif, which crops up throughout the movie like some silent yet powerful presence.
K-PAX is a movie I tend to revisit from time to time. It is based on Gene Brewer's eponymous novel and it is definitely a "thinker". That said, it is by no means an "emotionless" film. On the contrary, it is a movie about people and their relationships.
Ultimately, K-PAX is about how hard it is to connect to other people, and how easily we tend to slip into the catatonic-like routine of taking even the most fundamental things such as love and friendship for granted.
If you watch carefully the tail end of the "bluebird" scene, you will notice Gene Brewer standing in the crowd.
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