Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Movie Index


Directed by Iain Softley (2001, Universal Pictures)
Starring Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, and Mary McCormack

A man claiming to be from another planet helps patients in a psychiatric ward.



3 stars

June 29th, 2003 on TV  
    K-Pax is a very nice, quiet movie, with a lot of interesting questions, and lots of wonderful ambiguity. It doesn't really do much, except to allow a man to become open to the idea that anything is possible.

There is no action in this movie -it is pure drama. This means that it can become a little slow at times, but nowhere does it become unbearable.

The characters are all enjoyable. Prot is obviously not used to subterfuge, but neither does he really give a straight answer whenever humanity is concerned. He strings us and Dr. "Mark" along until we are ready to believe. Mark believes enough that he has to try really hard to keep his clinical judgement. He knows that if he was in the situation that his colleagues find themselves in now, watching a psychiatrist become close to Prot, that he would have a lot of trouble, himself. However, the things that he sees, from the Blue Bird of Success, to the astronomical observations, to the way that Prot speaks, allows him to half-believe. He feels so much relief when he finally discovers Robert Porter.

The best part of this movie comes from its ambiguity. We never actually find out if Prot was from another planet, or if he was Robert Porter after a traumatic experience. We are led to believe one way, then the other -back and forth, with good evidence to support either case, but nothing conclusive.

Since I am more willing to believe, I think there is enough information to show that Prot was actually from another planet. Somehow he was called from K-Pax to Earth whenever Robert Porter was feeling anxious or experienced some trauma. Prot would stay for as long as necessary, but would use Porter's body, helping his friend through the trauma. In the last case, where Porter's wife was raped and killed, and his daughter murdered, the man couldn't get over it. Prot helped him along, keeping his body alive until he could get the proper help, in the form of Mark. Once Mark found out about Porter, Prot could leave. I loved the line that Prot uses on Mark: "now that you have found Robert Porter, could you please take good care of him."

There were a lot of good moments. I laughed at Prot's use of the faster-than-light demonstration in the planetarium ("I'm already back"), and then he gets to turn the "fastest gun in the west routine" back on Mark later with the hypnosis, opening our thoughts to the possibility that he actually did do some traveling. The hypnosis and the crisis with the water sprinkler gave Mark the clues that he needed to find Porter.

I liked the way Prot described his planet, which seemed so different from our own only by contrast. He loved our fruit and vegetables, eating even the banana skin. He describes mating as a grizzly and unpleasant affair, which begs the question of how they ever evolved in the first place -humans are driven to mate by the pleasure of mating; how are the K-Paxians driven?

The thing that resonated most with Mark and his wife was that K-Paxians didn't have any families, which allowed them to analyze their own family -or for Mark, at least. Prot is really missing something by not having a family, but I wonder how close the community grows in place of that. The subplot of family, however, seemed out of place, at least from Mark's perspective. Since Mark's mind was opened to possibilities, and Porter had lost his family, we were obviously supposed to make a connection with his long-lost son, but I found that it was a weak link, at best.

The astronomy was interesting, and it was fun to see all of the astronomers dumbfounded by Prot's description of his planetary system ("just how many doctors are there on this planet!"). I am suspicious about the timing, though, in that the team just found this planetary system recently, with odd perturbations, and Prot happens to be from there, able to explain it all.

The patients in the psychiatric ward were all caricatures of a single personality trait, which was perfectly fine, because they highlighted different aspects of society. They also provided a backdrop to Prot's "illness", since they each had a physical trait that they were striving to overcome, while his was purely mental. In that way, they were able to take his advice, and believe in him, where they saw human doctors as simply incapable of understanding them. Prot's line "then why haven't you cured them?" is rather poignant when Mark approaches him about his profession. Prot manages to cure two of them, at least, and takes a third with him back to K-Pax. At least, this is how we must interpret it, because she disappears at the same time as Prot leaves Porter's body, trusting the shell of the man to Mark's abilities.

It was truly a touching tale, and it was a really interesting mystery to solve, in terms of who Prot actually was.


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