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This film is biographical, based on the life of the actress Frances Farmer (1914-1970), who was briefly successful in Hollywood in the early 1940’s and was then institutionalized for mental illness. She was "cured" by a transorbital prefrontal lobotomy.
The film begins with Frances (Jessica Lange) winning a high school writing competition with an essay criticizing God. This outspoken intelligence characterizes her. As a young actress, she wins a trip to Russia in a competition run by a Communist newspaper, performs on Broadway, and ends up in Hollywood. Quickly, however, it becomes clear that her unconventional behavior and attitudes make her vulnerable to people, including her overbearing and vicariously ambitious mother (Kim Stanley), who demand that she conform to more passive forms of femininity.
When Frances is arrested for drunk driving, her mother puts her in a "convalescent home," where she is given insulin injections in the guise of "vitamins." She escapes and, deciding that the pressures of the film industry are causing her drinking problem, tells her mother that she won’t be returning to Hollywood. Her starstruck mother, appalled, has her committed.
After undergoing the closely filmed experiences of the strait jacket, the padded cell, and shock treatment, all in the frighteningly bedlam-like atmosphere of the asylum, Frances submits to psychiatric surgery. This is perhaps the most disturbing part of the film. She is lobotomized in front of an audience by a mallet-wielding surgeon who boasts he can do ten patients per hour because "lobotomy gets ’em home."
Sure enough, Frances is allowed to go home. The film ends several years later in 1958, when Frances Farmer really did appear on the television show, "This is Your Life." We watch the show through the eyes of Harry York (Sam Shepard), the journalist who has always loved her, and he goes to meet her afterwards.
She has been transformed: composed and seemingly serene, but fundamentally blank, she has become a chilling shadow of herself. Early on in the film, she refuses to cooperate with a psychotherapist, saying "I don’t want to be what you want to make me: dull, average, normal." By the end of the film she has been reduced to the hollow appearance of all these things--and is grateful for it.
The surgeon Jack McKee (William Hurt) carries on an outwardly successful practice while treating his patients with aggressive sarcasm and general disrespect. "There is a danger in becoming too involved with your patients," he warns his residents, reminding them of the surgeon’s credo: "Get in, fix it, get out." Then McKee himself is diagnosed with cancer of the vocal chords, and the doctor discovers patienthood. The process is enormously uncomfortable for him, as he experiences a sharp decline in autonomy and everything that goes with it, and he begins to develop some empathy for those he has always scorned.
Particularly inspiring are several encounters with a coldly professional specialist and a platonic friendship with a young cancer patient named June (Elizabeth Perkins) who is dying because her doctors failed to diagnose her brain tumor. By the end of the film, Dr. McKee is both recovered and converted, and in the last scene is requiring his residents to spend 72 hours as hospital patients as part of their medical training.
Summary:This documentary presents a pastiche of illness narratives, the stories of seven women (including the filmmaker and the associate producer) who have struggled with mental illness, including depression, bipolar disorder, and multiple personality disorder. Intercut with the interviews are reenactments of key events in the women? lives; vivid depictions of sometimes frightening, sometimes exhilarating mental states experienced by the women; films and still photographs from the womens' childhoods, and archival film footage. In the process of exploring their illnesses and recoveries, the women discuss experiences that hurt them (rape, misdiagnoses, racism) as well as those that helped them heal (creativity, caring, therapists, and spirituality).
Frears presents a stark portrayal of London’s underbelly, a place where everything is for sale--at a price. It is a world in which most people tend to ignore or overlook: prostitution, illegal immigrants struggling to survive, illegal activities, humiliating circumstances, and most centrally, black market organ transplantation. "We are the people you don’t see." Information age technologies mix with greed and desperation to depict an engrossing and sordid narrative about real-life events occurring in places beyond the ordinary purview. This modern day thriller brings audiences to the edge of their seats as they witness harrowing and very believable accounts of marginalized members of society deprived of basic human dignities.
The story is complex but two characters dominate, a doctor from Nigeria (Chiwetel Ejiofor) now reduced by harsh circumstances to several menial jobs including taxi driving and hotel clerking, and an illegal chambermaid from Turkey (Audrey Tautou) whom he befriends and assists. She lives in constant danger of humiliation, exposure, deportation. Their paths cross in a hotel where both work, where "johns" are served by prostitutes, and where illegal and sloppy surgical procedures are employed to harvest kidneys from desperate donors.
This is a complex and, at times, very amusing story about modern life in an affluent Mexican family. Generational differences--and similarities--between a physician-grandfather (Xavier Masse) and his children and grandchildren, are important to the story, but the relationship between the wise grandfather and his most charismatic grandson, Rocco (Osvaldo Benavides), is central. Family issues concern money and greed, but also surprising expressions of love.
The story begins in a lovely Mexico City home where family members feud and fuss continuously. After the grandfather’s sudden death during a heated dinner table outburst with his selfish adult son, Rodrigo (Otto Sirgo), two grandsons kidnap the old man’s ashes and head to Acapulco in a "stolen" car so as to dispose of them according to their beloved grandfather’s request. Their journey is funny and full of adolescent shenanigans. In Acapulo, a secret is discovered about the grandfather that gives the story a wonderful twist.
This film traces the shared career and dissolution of Beverly and Elliot Mantle, male identical twins (both played, thanks to seamless special effects, by Jeremy Irons) who are gynecologists, running a successful fertility clinic in Toronto in the 1980’s. They share both work and personal lives; Elliot, the dominant twin, lectures at the hospital, accepts awards, plays the smooth professional--and seduces women. Beverly, the quiet one, sees patients, does research--and sometimes has affairs with women his brother passes on to him.
They usually draw the line at patients, not because of ethics, but because "it’s not safe." Their dealings with women have to be carefully compartmentalized, for the ambiguous intimacy of the gynecological doctor-patient relationship is difficult and dangerous for the twins, who form a psychologically unstable and deeply interdependent relationship on their own, likening themselves to the original Siamese twins, Eng and Chang, whose names they eventually take on, too.
Their symbiotic system is disrupted when a television actress, Claire Niveau (Genevieve Bujold), consults them about her infertility. She has a trifurcate uterus--the twins call her a "mutation"--and will never have children. Elliot, fascinated, seduces her, and then gives her to Beverly, who falls in love, with disastrous consequences. When Claire discovers that they’ve deceived her and temporarily leaves, Beverly becomes addicted to the amphetamines and sleeping pills that Claire habitually abuses.
The drugs impair his work, he begins to hurt patients, is hospitalized, and after a calamitous breakdown in the operating room (where Beverly attempts to use the monstrously beautiful surgical instruments he designed himself
"for operating on mutant women") both brothers keep their hospital privileges only on condition that they don’t use them. Elliot tries to rehabilitate Beverly, but realizes that the need to do so comes from their absolute interdependence--they might as well be physically joined. So Elliot begins taking drugs as well, and when Claire returns and Beverly goes back to her, Elliot breaks down completely.
The rest of the film traces Beverly’s failed attempt to become a separate individual. The instruments he invented are now, he says, "for separating Siamese twins," and, in a terrifying surgery scene, the drugged Beverly "operates" on his conscious though equally drugged brother, apparently disemboweling him. Next morning, Beverly leaves the apartment where his dead brother lies and calls the woman he loves, but he cannot talk to her. He goes back, his bid for independent identity a failure, and the film ends on a shot of the two, dead, in an embrace echoing the Renaissance anatomical illustrations of in utero twins which illuminate the film’s opening credits.
The film is an adaptation of an award-winning play by Ariel Dorfman, a Chilean writer forced into exile in 1973. Through revelatory events affecting the three characters, audiences learn about atrocities committed by the Fascist government that had, until recently, ruled the unnamed country where the story is set.
Paulina Escobar (Sigourney Weaver) had been a political prisoner during the oppressive period who was tortured by her captors. After gaining her trust by treating her kindly and playing a tape of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden, Dr. Miranda, a physician (Ben Kingsley) cruelly participated in the abusive treatment of his powerless victim. Gerardo Escobar (Stuart Wilson), then her boyfriend, now her husband, had been editor of the underground newspaper and target of the absolutist regime. In spite of torture, she did not disclose his whereabouts and, in effect, saved his life.
Currently, Paulina lives with Gerardo in a desolate coastal setting. At the film’s onset, viewers note Paulina’s agitation concerning a news bulletin about the presidential appointment of a human rights commission charged with investigating abuses by the previous regime. According to the report, her lawyer husband has been appointed committee chair. The remainder of the film concerns victim, physician, and husband of that oppressive period who through strange circumstances are brought together during the night.
Reminiscent of a Lear-like heath, past terrors are howled out against a raging storm. On his way home Gerardo’s tire became flat and he was picked up and brought home by Miranda, a good Samaritan. When Paulina, who had been blindfolded during her captivity, recognizes his voice and pet phrases, she steals his car and pushes it over the cliff into the sea. Totally perplexed by the Paulina’s actions, the men pace about in the living room where the doctor delivers derisive diatribes about women in general and wives in particular. Gerardo, to a lesser extent, expresses condemnation and embarrassment for his wife’s inexplicable behavior.
When she returns, both men have had too much to drink; she finds a gun in their house, tapes the groggy physician to a chair, pistol whips him as he resists and shouts, stuffs her panties into his mouth, and begins a heated exchange with her incredulous and very angry husband. He wants evidence for her seemingly preposterous charge. She can "smell" him she screams; she found a tape of the Schubert String Quartet in D Minor in his car; and he quotes Nietzsche just as he did when she was strapped to a table. Under much strain, her husband agrees to a taped trial in which he will represent the accused and force a confession.
((Note: This film has a surprise ending that will be discussed below.) Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) are friends, two sex-obsessed 17-year-olds boys who flirt with the beautiful and somewhat older (and married) Luisa (Maribel Verdú), at a wedding and invite her to drive with them to an imaginary beach. She pays little attention, but after discovering that her husband has cheated on her again, she decides to flee her crumbling and childless marriage and calls the boys to see if the invitation is still good. The boys quickly make real plans and all three take off to a remote destination.
There is a lot of driving, and the three talk a lot about sex, and then have it. When things threaten to blow apart because of jealousy between the immature boys, Luisa steps in aggressively to take control of the road trip to make it continue to work for her. After she imposes her rules, there are some fine moments of peace at the beach, with Luisa enjoying the natural beauty of the waterfront and also a more mature relationship with the boys. She even attempts a tender if unhappy telephone farewell with her unfaithful husband.
At the beach, Luisa becomes close to a local fisherman, his wife, and their young child, and when the boys have to get back, Luisa announces she is staying at the beach with the fisherman's family. A month later the boys hear that she has died from cancer. A voice-over tells us that the boys will eventually split up with their girlfriends and never see each other again. Luisa's achievement is what remains.
Warren Schmidt, played by Jack Nicholson, is a middle level officer in an Omaha insurance company who faces retirement and, shortly afterward, the sudden death of his wife of 42 years. He struggles with emotional chaos and mental confusion and with the nagging thought that his life is over and that he has failed to make the world better in any way.
An additional complication is that his only child, Jeannie (Hope Davis), is planning to marry a man (Randall, played by Dermott Mulroney) Schmidt strongly feels is below her. He tries several times to prevent the marriage but fails at that, too. Returning home from the wedding in despair, Schmidt finds a piece of mail with a drawing made by a young boy in Tanzania he had begun to support just after he retired, and the final scene shows him deeply moved.
Set in the 1950s Eisenhower era, this film creates an enlarged snapshot of a model suburban household in Connecticut as well as a companion negative of two suppressed social issues lurking beneath the painfully smooth surface. In his effort to portray dominant values, as well as the melodramatic look and feel of the period, Director Hayes appropriates visual effects and music associated with fifties films by Douglas Sirk such as "All That Heaven Allows" with Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman. Colors are too vivid; music heavily underlines emotional elements; and stylistically designed sets reflect superficial ideals. Too perfect.
Moving from the margins and into the center two disruptive shadows gradually emerge, one dealing with race, the other with homosexuality. In the years preceding racial protests and riots and in a time when few could imagine public conversation about sexual orientations, use of condoms, or AIDS, the story reveals unspeakable abuses, intolerances, and injustices that have subsequently been addressed but not resolved.