The Cell

<Sigh> Another pop video masquerading as a film…

‘The Cell’ has some of the most stunning, spectacular, & artistic visuals ever seen on screen – the art & CGI boys have really gone to town on this one . If you take all that away, however, there isn’t much of a movie left, & what there is doesn’t really hang together. In my opinion this belongs more in a gallery of modern art than in a cinema.

Don’t get me wrong: the visuals – the set designs, the costumes, the CGI – are eye-poppingly amazing; some of the best ever. But when a film starts with it’s visuals as a foundation & has it’s story & characters built around that the latter are bound to suffer & I think that is what has happened here.

Jennifer Lopez – herself looking amazing – plays Catharine Deane, a psychotherapist who is working with a team of scientists who have devised a machine that enables her to enter the subconscious of her patients. She is using this technique to attempt to bring a young boy out of a coma.

Meanwhile, sado-masochistic serial killer Carl Stargher (Vincent D’Onofrio, perhaps better known as ‘The Bug’ in ‘Men In Black’) is abducting & killing young women, & the police, headed by Peter Novak (Vince Vaughn), manage to find & capture him. Capturing him wasn’t that difficult as by the time the police arrived he had fallen into a coma brought on by the rare form of ‘schizophrenia’ he suffers from.

(Note of Scientific Accuracy: As per usual, sadly, Hollywood has once again got it’s psychiatric science completely wrong. In real life there is nothing like the condition Stargher suffers from; the supposed experts in the film at one point make a complete misdiagnosis by suggesting the wrong drug treatment for schizophrenia; & most importantly, Stargher is NOT a schizophrenic, he is a plain & simple psychopath (or ‘sociopath’ in American English). If I sound like I’m an expert on the subject I’m not, but my fiance is a highly regarded psychiatrist; one who is thoroughly sick of the ignorance & misinformation that Hollywood movies continue to promulgate about mental illness.)

Stargher’s latest victim is in an automated cell from where she receives food & water but which after 40 hours is flooded, all of which is remotely recorded onto videotape.This is in order to prolong her mental suffering & so Stargher can get his jollies by watching the tape afterwards while with the girl’s corpse & while subjecting himself to masochistic ritual. There are 2 main problems here: 1) Only Stargher knows where she is, & 2) Stargher is in a coma.

You don’t have to be a mathematical genius to now put 2 & 2 together & make for Novak approaching Deane in order to convince her to enter Stargher’s subconscious & try to find where the girl is before it’s too late. Cue lots of fancy visuals, & with a bit of mutilation thrown in for good measure, the film then rumbles towards it’s highly unsatisfactory ending. It’s this ending more than anything else which for me lets the film down. To my mind, without giving anything away, Deane acts in an irrational & uncharacteristic way, one which was certainly in contradiction to strong viewpoints she had earlier expressed to Novak. Even if her behaviour could have been explained, it wasn’t & it should have been. At least an explanation of Novak’s actions in ending the case was given, but it was extremely weak, & for me just didn’t hold water.

The most annoying thing is that it didn’t have to be like this. There looked to be a very promising storyline developing between Deane & Novak where she was offering the hideous abuse that Stargher suffered as a child as an explanation of his present behaviour. Novak on the other hand was dogmatically asserting that he was convinced that even if a child had suffered such abuse it didn’t have to automatically follow that the child would have to emulate the behaviour he had grown up with, as he always had a choice. Not only is that a fascinating scientific debate that could have been the foundation for a great film, but it also seemed to be implying that Novak himself had suffered similar childhood abuse & had chosen against it, which I thought would feature in the film later on.

There are 2 possible explanations that I can think of as to why this plotline was not pursued:

1) This was just thrown in for good measure, was never intended to be developed, & only seemed significant because Vaughn is such a great actor.

2) The most likely explanation: the director couldn’t be bothered with it as he was more interested in throwing in some more pretty pictures & the studio wanted to keep the running time down.

This I think also explains the weak ending – who cares about consistency in plotting & characterisation in a film that looks this good?

I think it’s worth mentioning that as well as all the pretty pictures, this also one of the nastiest films I have ever seen. There are scenes here of sado-masochism, torture, extreme violence & necrophilia: suffice to say that the film includes scenes which some people – myself included – may find disturbing.

I am more & more coming around to the view of writer J.G. Ballard (author of ‘Crash’, recently converted to celluloid by David Cronenburg) of contemporary Western society. His assertion is that in the relative prosperity & ensuing softness of the West we are becoming more devoid of real feeling & are driven to seek out more & more extreme means to find sensation in order to alleviate our increasing numbness. I wonder if ‘The Cell’ is evidence of this trend: here we have sensation, whether in extreme beauty or extreme cruelty, presented for it’s own sake, with such scant regard for plotting, characters or intelligence that it borders on contempt. This is the pop video / supermodel culture on film: if it looks good, it IS good – never mind that if you poke it with a sharp stick it deflates due to being filled with nothing but hot air.

If you like sensation for it’s sake, if you’re content with eye-candy & a bit of gore to boot, you’ll enjoy this. If however you’re like me & you enjoy a movie with at least some substance, this is probably worth watching for it’s spectacular imagery – but ultimately this is less of a film & more of a showcase for pretty pictures & stylish sadism. Disappointing.

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