August 15, 2020


posted on: Sunday November 4, 2001

by Dave Quinn

In order to fully accept K-PAX, the viewer must suspend disbelief and accept the world created. And although that seems easy, fully believing what is in front of us becomes difficult when explanations and endings aren’t tied up. However, that serves as the major charm for K-PAX. The premise, although not original, is extremely intriguing, and the overall impact of the film is helped immensely by the strong performances of Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges. Prot (Spacey), the newest patient at the Psychiatric Institute of Manhattan, seems perfectly sane until he starts talking about his mysterious origins. According to Prot, he’s a mere visitor from the planet K-PAX, located 1,000 light years away in the constellation of Lyra. As his psychiatrist, Mark Powell (Bridges), tries to figure out how to help him, he realizes Prot is having a remarkable effect on the mental health of the hospital’s other patients. Soon, Powell begins doubting his own diagnosis, as Prot’s delusions are more detailed than usual. Powell can’t understand how Prot’s knowledge of solar systems matches that of only a few renowned astronomers, and how his calculations figure out formulas that those same scientists have been working their whole lives to comprehend. Determined to prove the stranger is nothing more than a victim of multiple-personality disorder, Powell believes the man’s delusions are the result of a traumatic event from his past, and is firm to find the truth.British director Iain Softley provides a wonderful adaptation of the 1995 Gene Brewer novel of the same name. Although somewhat dragged out, the movie supplies strong themes stressing the importance of families and society. K-PAX also emphasizes the difference between appearance and reality. Most importantly, the picture leaves the audience questioning many of the themes presented. All of this is done in a straightforward matter, as K-PAX manages to intrigue without over plotting. The mystery at the core of K-PAX is whether Prot is really from another planet or whether he’s simply a very human man in very deep pain. It’s here that the battle between appearance and reality is fought. All signs seem to lead to Prot being an alien. However, logically, this cannot be possible. In the end, the truth about Prot isn’t revealed in a definite way, although the viewer can make a few deductions. All loose ends aren’t tied up, leaving much room for speculation, adding to the charm of the film.Symbolism was also strongly used throughout the film. Attempting to cure some of the mental patients, Prot gives them a task of searching for the blue bird of happiness. The bird represents life and hope. Music is also used, as a piano serves as both a beautiful, happy and dark, mysteriously depressing instrument. Most allegorical, however, is the similarities we can make between Prot and Jesus. Both teachers, they are able to open minds and change people. Prot spurs a group of extreme followers, all of which are inmates in the hospital. They begin to strongly believe in Prot, becoming worshipers to a non-human god of sorts. Prot is their friend, patient, and savior. Beautifully acted and strongly written, Bridges and Spacey shine as Powell and Prot, respectfully. Bridges, who was outstanding in The Contender and Arlington Road, shows us the struggle that is going on within his character. Powell wants so much to believe Prot, and consumes himself within his case. Still, his disregard of his family is forgiven in his ignorance. Kevin Spacey’s performance reassures his place in the pantheon of great modern actors, making an extra-terrestrial seem more human than his earthly counterparts. Although he spends most of the movie with sunglasses on, he’s still able to capture your attention and keep your patience. Together, Spacey and Bridges provide wonderful chemistry, which is reflected and enforced by their support cast members. Most noteworthy to the supporting cast is Mary McCormick, who plays Bridges wife with just the right emotion and conscious. She’s not flying off the handle because her husband works too much, but she’s also not sitting back and ignoring the obvious. K-PAX may not be out of this world, but it’s certainly at a higher level than what’s out there now. Because the movie leans toward melodrama, some may tune out without bothering to look beneath the surface to discover some interesting themes and issues. But, for everyone who is looking for something to make you think and keep your interest, spend the money. K-PAX offers a worthwhile time inside a darkened theater. GRADE: B+

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