"He’s the most convincing delusional I’ve ever
seen," says Dr. Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges). The "delusional" is
Prot (Kevin Spacey), a matter-of-factly low-key patient at the
Psychiatric Institute of Manhattan, who claims to be an alien
from the planet
Convincing he certainly is, in some settings. Prot dumbfounds
a planetarium full of astrophysicists with detailed information
about the orbit of his home planet dovetailing perfectly with
recently observed irregularities in the movements of the star
system he claims as his home. At a
Prot pulls off these party tricks quite convincingly. Yet get him started on his theories about mankind, family, society, and the like, and the spell is broken: He’s clearly delusional. Not that I’m saying anything about the truth or falsehood of his claims. Prot may very well be an alien. That doesn’t mean he isn’t delusional.
"You humans," Prot says with good-naturedly condescending
smugness. "Sometimes it’s hard to imagine how you’ve made it this
far." With his unflappably low-key matter-of-factness, his
vegetarian diet, and his unconcern for conventions like peeling
bananas before eating them, Prot certainly seems the very picture
of pop-psych enlightenment — an Ubermensch straight out of
the pages of Wayne Dyer’s Your Erroneous Zones. Listening
to Prot’s claims, viewers may even be reminded of the claims of
another man who said he came down from heaven.
So, would you like to hear some of Prot’s cosmic wisdom? Are you ready for a revelatory new look at life on earth, with all its foibles and eccentricities, from the perspective of an enlightened visitor from the stars?
Brace yourself: On
Would you be amazed to learn that on
Well, all right. Maybe where Prot comes from they don’t need
to worry about evil; maybe
Is that even meant to be an answer to the question? What
specifically is the wiser alternative embraced throughout the
universe concerning those who do really wrong things? Even if
that never happens on
Much later in the film we learn that Prot has an ambiguous relationship to another character who actually was victimized by the sort of evil Dr. Powell speaks of, and who responded with murderous eye-for-an-eye vengeance. This revelation may give Prot’s words new resonance, but nothing he says illuminates what that man ought to have done instead.
Or consider the oceans of wisdom in Prot’s closing voice-over, which goes something like this: "The universe is expanding, but after that it will collapse back in on itself, and go on expanding and collapsing into eternity. What you don’t know is that everything that happens in this iteration is repeated in all future iterations. Everything you do, you will do again and again forever. Every mistake you make, you will relive again and again for all eternity. So try to get it right this time, because this is the only chance you have."
This charming speech, apparently meant to be inspirational and motivational, in fact comes across as reincarnation theory from hell with a Calvinist double-predestination twist. Besides, why does Prot seem to think that this particular iteration offers us any opportunity to get it right? Shouldn’t he rather conclude that we’re already merely reliving the mistakes we’ve been making for eternity in previous universal iterations? Isn’t the idea of the big-bang-big-crunch theory that the universe has always been doing this? Surely Prot doesn’t think the universe just got started this time around, does he?
Prot’s thoughts about mental illness are as delusional as his
theories on government and family. "For your information," he
tells Dr. Powell, "all beings have the capacity to cure
In American Beauty
Kevin Spacey told us, with all the authority of one who has
transcended this mortal coil, what a wonderful world it could be
if only we could all see the beauty in a plastic bag blowing in
the wind. Now here he is as a holy alien with a gospel of living
in the moment and believing in yourself. Give me a break. I’ll
take the Pax Christi over
It’s not hard to play connect-the-dots and pair off likable characters with one another. It’s harder to put them in a story that’s worthwhile. This is a film without conviction, about a town full of people with problems without depth, aided by a guru without soul. Mumford is a fraud. Take that in whatever sense you like.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.