Kevin Spacey is in his element in K-Pax, which is too bad: A major actor should cultivate a lower threshold of shame. Spacey plays a fellow who calls himself Prot (pronounced “Prote”), who claims to have beamed in on light particles from a distant planet. He might be a real E.T. or he might be a head case, a man so shattered by some repressed trauma that he put thousands of light years (metaphorically speaking) between himself and the human race. No sooner has he materialized (or something, it’s purposely muzzy) in New York’s Grand Central Station than he’s whisked away to a psychiatric institute, where Dr. Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges) must determine the nature of this dementia—if dementia it is. So Spacey gets to be ironically detached from the action and later, under hypnotic regression, gruelingly in the throes of primal horror: to show off, in a single role, his cool, hipster’s superiority and his Method acting chops. No wonder he’s so insufferably smug.
Much of K-Pax consists of Spacey grinning like Stevie Wonder behind sunglasses (Earth light is apparently too bright), taking dippy steps, and bobbing his head as if attached to an invisible Walkman. When he isn’t playing theater games with his therapist, he’s saying gnomic but miraculously effective things to his fellow patients, who emerge from under their sundry pathologies faster than the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion after the Wizard of Oz hands them diplomas, medals, etc. He announces that “all beings have the ability to cure themselves”—a statement so all-encompassing that it would throw even
The director, Iain Softley, and the screenwriter, Charles Leavitt, must have had so much faith in their lead actor’s postmodern tour de force that they avoided grappling with basic narrative questions, among them why an extraterrestrial with limited time on Earth would want to spend it locked up alongside delusional schizophrenics. When
Perhaps they sensed that he and his shrink had larger philosophical questions to explore. Prot explains that where he comes from, there is no such thing as family: Children are collectively raised and no emotional bonds are formed. Is this the truth or a brilliant defense mechanism? In any case, we’re meant to register the hypocrisy that underlies
The latter would make Prot a 21st-century version of Hickey in
I don’t want to give away the ending, but I’m dazzled by how the filmmakers finally finesse the whole issue, so that the audience can have its bubbleheaded sci-fi inspiration and its harrowing psychological realism, too. Their solution doesn’t represent an artistic triumph, but it’s more resourceful than anything that has preceded it. That and the actors’ conviction almost makes you think that K-Pax is more than a gooey slab of Oscar-season kitsch. The music—New Age plink and shimmer—should dispel any doubts.
It’s hard to say what K-Paxians would make of the definition of family in Intimacy; they might think its characters’ inability to find happiness in each other’s company is a sign of human growth. The movie, directed by Patrice Chéreau (from a script he wrote with Anne-Louise Trividic), is a glancing adaptation of an infamous, semi-autobiographical Hanif Kureishi novella, one that’s largely set on the night before a husband abandons his wife and two sons. I found the book brilliant (Kureishi goes deep into the oppressiveness of domestic life) and hateful (Kureishi doesn’t go deep into the oppressiveness of his own narcissism); but in any case it serves here only as a springboard for Chéreau’s powerfully unsettling meditation on the meaning of that title concept.
In common with Kureishi’s protagonist,
Intimacy doesn’t answer the question, which makes it all the more tantalizing: This is an emotional puzzle movie. After a spell, it evolves into a variation on Last Tango in Paris (1972), in which Jay, at first enthralled by the anonymity, begins to long instinctively for something more. He trails the woman to a pub that houses a basement theater; it turns out that she’s a semi-professional actress called
The subtext in the scenes between Rylance and Spall is battering—a harshly unromantic counterpoint to the lyrical Tennessee Williams psychodrama beneath the pub in which they drink and shoot billiards. These barbed non-confrontations are the more wrenching because neither actor sentimentalizes his character. Rylance—an exhaustingly brainy actor (he did the finest Hamlet I’ve ever seen, in
More and more, Intimacy becomes a morass—but that’s not, in this context, a bad thing. A beautiful woman whose large features have begun to sag, as if from the weight of her own irresolution, Fox’s Claire drifts indeterminably through these bleak middle-class environs. In the course of giving acting lessons, she berates an older woman (