K-Pax

Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges.
Directed Iain Softely.
Running Time: 120 mins
Rated: M
The French Philosopher Michel Foucault argues that one of measures of a civilised society is how it defines insanity and crime and then how it treats criminals and the mentally disabled. K-Pax orbits around this axis.

Prot (Spacey) is admitted to a New York psychiatric hospital claming to be from the planet K-Pax. Dr Mark Powell (Bridges) thinks he is dealing with another delusional schizophrenic until it is revealed that Prot is unusually sensitive to UV light and that he has a prodigious knowledge of astrophysics and astronomy. Meanwhile, Prot's insights into crime and
punishment, disease and healing and sanity enables him to become the most effective counsellor in the hospital. In what could be a case for medical malpractice, Powell hypnotises Prot to get to the truth of his story. This has traumatic results for the patient and a great personal learning for the doctor.

I am delighted to observe that K-Pax may be overly ambitious, with too many colliding worlds for one film. Iain Softley, however, deftly fuses three genres: fantasy, science fiction and the hospital drama. Without any special effects, but with some superb lighting, K-Pax, by the end, answers enough questions for us to be reassured that it all makes sense, and enough issues are left unresolved to keep us guessing.

Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges put in convincing and moving performances as does the large and impressive supporting cast. The values in this film are rich indeed. As a character, the lovable Prot enables screenwriter Kevin Leavitt to make all sorts of external observations about the society we have created on earth. One of the most telling ones is to debunk reincarnation. To quote another film, Prot keeps telling everyone to "seize the day" by valuing the people we love because "this time 'round is all you have."

Whether the planet K-Pax exists or not, this film has some wisdom we can recognise and are enriched for hearing.

Richard Leonard SJ

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