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K-PAX (2001)

Prot, a being who looks like a man, claiming to travel on a beam of light from a planet called K-PAX is taken to New York's Manhattan Psychiatric Institute for observation, evaluation and treatment. Dr. Powell finds that he must do some detective work to find out who this man really is, with the movie's audience along for the ride. Is he a K-Paxian or a man living in a delusional world?

The cast includes: Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, Mary McCormack, Alfred Woodard, David Patrick, Saul Williams, Peter Gerety, Celia Weston, Ajay Naidu, Melanee Murray, and John Toles Bey.

Screenplay by: Charles Leavitt, baed on the novel by Gene Brewer.

Directed by: Iain Softley.

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Synopsis...

Prot, a being who looks like a man, claiming to travel on a beam of light from a planet called K-PAX is taken into custody by N.Y. train station police and taken to New York's Manhattan Psychiatric Institute for observation, evaluation and treatment, under the care of Dr. Mark Powell, Chief of Clinical Psychology (Jeff Bridges). Dr. Powell finds that he must do some detective work to find out who this man really is with the movie's audience along for the ride. Is he a K-Paxian or a man living in a delusional world? It is clear that whether or not this patient is an alien or a regular human being, he suffered an unacceptable emotional trauma, and is in need of mental health help.

Promotional Lines: "Change the way you look at the world." "He Says He's From The Planet K-PAX You'll Want To Believe Him." "Celebrate the Possibilities."

Quotes: PROT: "Why is a soap bubble round? Because it is the most energy efficient configuration. Similarly, on your planet I look like you; on K-Pax I look like a K-Paxian." "You humans, sometimes it is hard to imagine how you made it this far."

Dr. Powell: "What would you say if I told you I think you're as human as I am?" Prot: "I would say you're in need of a thorazine drip, Doctor ."

Review...

The story begins in the middle of New York's Central Train Station, focusing on a homeless veteran in a wheel chair, Freddie (Clarke Peters) begging for donations. Suddenly, Freddie notices a strong beam of sunlight filtering down through the station windows. His vision is temporarily blocked for a moment by the passing crowd. When Freddie looks again, he sees that a man with sunglasses had suddenly appeared. A Russian lady is pushed down by some thugs who steal her luggage right near this mysterious man with the glasses. As this man moves to help the lady to her feet, the police arrive.

While this man, who identifies himself as Prot, is cleared from the mugging by the man in the wheel chair, the police suspect Prot doesn't have both oars in the water, place him in cuffs, and take him to Bellvue Mental Health facility for observation. Three weeks later, Prot is sent to New York's Manhattan Psychiatric Institute for observation, evaluation and treatment, becoming the patient of Dr. Mark Powell, Chief of Clinical Psychology (Jeff Bridges).

As Dr. Powell gently probes Prot about himself and about life on his planet, K-PAX and observes Prot's unique characteristics, such as his gentleness, his acting like an outside observer, (notating everything in a little book for his report), his sensitivity to light, and his love for fruit, such as bananas, which he eats skin and all, Dr. Powell comes to the conclusion that Prot is the most convincing delusional he has ever treated, and must be creative in this patient's treatment, if he was going to help this patient face the horror that drove him into this delusional state of being.

Dr. Powell turns to his brother-in-law, Dr. Steve Becker (Brian Howe), an Astro-physicist for some challenging questions to run past Prot. Prot's answers so impress Dr. Becker and his co-workers, Prot, along with Dr. Powell and hospital personnel are invited to go to the observatory to talk with the scientists. When asked to draw K-Pax's rotational path, Prot does so, much to the amazement of all.

Dr. Powell then takes Prot home to his family's July 4th picnic in the backyard, where Prot experiences an everyday occurrence which upsets him, giving Dr. Powell a revelation about the problem. Whether from K-PAX or a resident of earth, it becomes clear that whatever happened in the past had a traumatic effect on this being, which he needs help in dealing with it. The question is, does Dr. Powell have two patients in one or just a delusional one?

Throughout the storyline, clues to both the horrendous event and Prot's identity are given to the audience. The evidence can be argued for either possibility of Prot's true nature; human or alien. Like a good detective, Dr. Powell puts the clues together, the most important ones gotten through hypnotizing Prot. At an early age, Prot claims to have traveled to earth and had become friends with a farm boy whose father worked as a knocker at a slaughterhouse. After seeing a small piece of the horrible incident through Prot's eyes, and getting some personal property from Prot by accident, Dr. Powell races against time, to find Prot's human friend or counterpart identity as Prot has announced that he would be traveling back to K-PAX on July 27th, not a good announcement for either a delusional man, or a traumatized alien.

The secondary storyline shows the personal relationships that develop between Prot and the people at the hospital. Being helpful and gentle by nature, Prot helps the other patients by giving them tasks, which don't always please the staff, though he has a kind word for everyone, making a point to know the staff on first name basis. He even has suggestions for Dr. Powell concerning his family. This secondary storyline melds nicely with the main storyline, adding some depth to the film. By the end of the film, Prot's horrible secret of what happened is shown to the audience, as it is revealed to Dr. Powell.

The insightful direction was by Englishman Iain Softley, who got his start in theatrical productions and graduated to films in 1993. This fourth effort in film directing is very well done, as he does a great job with this psychological, Sci-Fi, mystery / drama, in both the pacing, planning of the scenes and the direction of the actors. The end result brings the screenplay to life, creating a psychological/ Sci-Fi fantasy classic, which solves the mystery of what had happened in the past, but still leaves one guessing at the true identity of Prot.

There are three points of view about whether Prot was who he claimed to be or whether he was a human being suffering from psychosis, or perhaps a combination of both. Some see spiritual allegories to Jesus Christ and His life. Arguments for each point of view can be found on imdb.com.

This entertaining screenplay, based on the first novel of a trilogy by Gene Brewer, was by up and coming screenwriter, Charles Leavitt, who catches the spirit and drama of this novel.

Jeff Bridges was perfectly cast as Dr. Mark Powell, and is very convincing as the caring psychiatrist turned detective, in his efforts to help Prot, a tortured soul, alien or human, traumatized by a past event.

The highlight scenes are when Dr. Powell puts Prot under hypnosis. A favorite series of scenes with Bridges has to be his reactions upon realizing what his patient(s) had been exposed to, as the sheriff explains the catastrophic events that had happened to cause all the psychological damage. Bridges also does a fine job portraying Dr. Powell at home. Besides work, Dr. Powell has some struggles at home as well. His dedication to his work clashes with his family time, and he is estranged from his son by his first marriage.

Kevin Spacey does a fantastic job portraying the character of Prot, a man who claims to be an alien visitor, observing and offering help to those humans around him, while harboring a dark secret or two. Spacey is truly a talented actor.

A favorite scene shows Kevin Spacey, portraying Prot, eating a banana, skin and all, looking totally satisfied. Another favorite series of scenes, which showcases Spacey's talent is when his character is under hypnosis portraying a young boy, a 17 year old and an adult, remembering a traumatic experience, which will leave sensitive viewers grabbing for the kleenex box.

Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey together produced electrical chemistry on screen that more than fulfills the feeling of their scenes together, whether light-hearted or dramatic.

The mental patients are portrayed by talented character actors, who do a great job exhibiting their illnesses, and interacting / reacting to Spacey's lines with them. I especially enjoyed Saul Williams as the fearful Ernie, Peter Gerety as Sal, David Patrick Kelly as Howie and award-winning stage actress, Celia Weston as Mrs. Doris Archer.

Rated PG-13 for a sequence of violent images of what had happened, brief language and one short scene depicting sensual behavior by a patient toward Prot, who just looks at her quizzically.

If you enjoyed K-PAX, you may like ORDINARY PEOPLE, I NEVER PROMISED
YOU A ROSE GARDEN, ANALYZE THIS, GIRL-INTERRUPTED, and the 1976 TV movie, SYBIL.