Tag: psychology

Three Identical Strangers


Three Identical Strangers (2018)
★★★★ / ★★★★

During the opening minutes of this fascinating documentary I thought, “So what? It is not unique for adopted identical twins, separated at birth and having no knowledge of each other’s existence, to cross paths despite the improbability of it.” But patience proves to offer big rewards as director Tim Wardle threads together numerous compelling reasons why his subjects are special: they are pieces of a bigger puzzle filled with curious implications about the age old debate of nature versus nurture. But that it is not all. The work is also a look at the darker side of acquiring knowledge, when ethics and morality are taken out of the equation in the name of science.

The material’s jagged edges can easily be overlooked at times because of how entertaining it is. Learning about the triplets when they met at nineteen years of age is highly amusing: they all smoked the same brand of cigarettes, they were a part of the wrestling team in high school, and they had the same taste in women. Robert, Eddy, and David—raised in a wealthy family, a middle-class family, and a blue-collar family, respectively, look so identical, it is a big challenge to tell them apart in home videos and photographs. Their collective energy was so infectious, I caught myself smiling because of how happy they were to have found one another. It is interesting to learn about them through one-on-one interviews in addition to those who know them most.

At times it is capable of offering great insights regarding its subjects. An immediate standout involves a fallout among the brothers after they established a successful business post-fame and celebrity. An interviewee makes a point that because the siblings met as adults, they did not have a chance to be around and learn about each other as children—which includes how to weigh each other’s personalities, temperaments, and point of views as siblings who grew up together would have. And so despite their many similarities in likes, dislikes, and mannerisms, they are, essentially, strangers when there is considerable conflict.

The manner in which the material is put together likens that of a subtle thriller. It is always evolving, its pace full of zeal, and it commands a constant forward momentum. Later surprising revelations underline seemingly throwaway information encountered earlier on. Notice the way in which the second half is edited. Intercutting among aging faces, potentially crucial documents, and foreboding city skylines are more prevalent. Frantic. And yet—it is not afraid to slow down to a halt, to be patient when a person being interviewed is recalling a painful memory or trauma. It never loses track that despite the big picture no longer solely being about the triplets, it remains to be a humanistic piece.

This is just the surface. Yes, it touches upon parenting, heritage, and identity. Still, so little can be said about “The Identical Strangers” without revealing its more sinister and chilling themes. I refuse to delve into them because discovering these elements is most engrossing. The documentary’s premise is feel-good, but once the layers have been peeled off, it is a challenge not to feel angry at the many injustices, for the lives lost and scarred forever. As the end credits start to roll, one gets the impression there are more secrets to be revealed at a later time. I hope to be around in 2066.

Gothika


Gothika (2003)
★ / ★★★★

Dr. Miranda Grey (Halle Berry) worked in a psychiatric hospital in which her current case was a woman (Penélope Cruz) claiming that she was being raped while she was in her cell. Dr. Grey surmised that the woman’s story was simply a reflection of an abused childhood. Of course, on a dark, stormy night, the psychiatrist got into a car accident because she attempted to avoid hitting a girl standing in the middle of the road. The next thing Dr. Grey knew, she woke up in a cell as if she was one of the patients in the hospital. “Gothika” was not a smart supernatural thriller. Instead of using images of a ghost as a backdrop of deeply rooted psychological problems, it used the paranormal in the most literal way. We were supposed to believe that the ghost could be touched (and possess someone despite the fact that the person didn’t believe). We were supposed to believe that the ghost was trying to communicate in order for it to find some sort of peace. We were supposed to believe that ghosts only appeared when lights flickered in quick succession.How was I supposed to believe in such things if I couldn’t believe for one second that Dr. Grey and his colleague (Robert Downey Jr.) were competent doctors? I knew they knew psychological terms because they had no problem throwing them at each other (perhaps as foreplay because the two were obviously attracted to one another), but I didn’t feel like the actors embodied their characters in such a way that I could feel an air of presence about them when they entered a room. Downey was too quirky to the point where I thought he suited being a clown more than a doctor. Berry seemed like a first-year graduate student who didn’t know how to adapt when a situation turned grim. (Initially, I thought it could work. Just take a look at Clarice Starling in Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs.”) Instead, in the most crucial times, she shrieked and hid and then did more screaming and hiding. The script needed some serious work. For supposedly intelligent individuals who ran a psychiatric hospital (where the film took place for the majority of the time), both the material and the characters lacked logic. Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, the pacing was deathly slow and borderline soporific. I didn’t find the quick editing and the booming soundtrack scary in the least. In fact, I was annoyed because I kept wondering when it would focus on the real issue at hand: the question involving Dr. Grey’s sanity. It never did. “Gothika” is a meandering picture with painfully mediocre storytelling techniques. The Best Unintentional Laugh should go to the scene when Berry’s character declared, “I don’t believe in ghosts… but they believe in me.” I don’t believe in either.

Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly


Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly (1970)
★ / ★★★★

A well-to-do British family without a father figure immersed themselves in childhood games. They picked men off the streets–men who would not be missed such as hippies and homeless folks–and if the men tried to escape the mansion or expressed that they no longer wanted to play games, they were killed in a ritualistic manner. Mumsy (Ursula Howells), Nanny (Pat Heywood), Sonny (Howard Trevor), and Girly (Vanessa Howard) were the demented predators and their most recent prey was named New Friend (Michael Bryant) who took an intense liking for Girly even though she was at least twenty years younger than him. I thought the premise of the picture was fascinating but I’m afraid the screenplay was stuck in one concept and it grew more stale as it went on. I understood the psychoanalytical message. The film was all about commenting on the suffocation of constantly having the need to remain loyal with traditions. Since the father was not there to lead the family, the movie made an argument that the family would most likely rot from the inside. Since the father was believed to have a key role in the maturity of children, the teenagers became fixated in acting like six-year-olds. Since there was no father to take care of the mother, the mother and the nanny developed an unusually close bond. They even slept in the same room. Anyone with a basic understanding of psychology would be able to pinpoint such obvious messages, so I was hoping that the director, Freddie Francis, allowed the picture to evolve. While the acting was tolerable most of the time, at times I felt like the actors were rehearsing a play. Since the subject was already so bold, the actors’ decision to portray their roles as caricatures was like hammering the audiences over the head with mallet. Its cartoonish tone was very distracting so the horror did not work. As a dark comedy, it was arguably effective but I was not convinced that the filmmakers wanted it to be more amusing than horrific. In a nutshell, its arguable success was accidental. It should have paid more attention in generating tension because there were far too few rewards in between the sinister kills. At the time of its release, the film’s subject matter was very controversial. While I do enjoy movies that are different, the anti-formula to the formula has to have intelligence and an energy that does not leave me so frustrated after the experience. Unfortunately, “Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly” wasted its potential to be something great.

The Brood


The Brood (1979)
★★★ / ★★★★

Frank (Art Hindle) found his daughter (Cindy Hinds) covered in bruises and bite marks. To Frank, there was only one person to blame–the mother (Samantha Eggar) who was entitled weekly visitations from a psychiatric institution run by Dr. Raglan (Oliver Reed), a doctor who had a strange way of providing therapy to his patients. It seemed as though he induced his patients into deep hypnosis. By pretending to be key figures from a specific patient’s life, they engaged in conversations and sorted through many emotions in hopes of arriving at some form of closure. Writer-director David Cronenberg took a lot of risks with this project by focusing on how negative emotions could potentially manifest themselves physically. There was true horror when the mutants started killing people. Were they real or were they simply a product of the mind? During an autopsy of one of the mutants, it was revealed to resemble a human but it did not have a navel. When the film was concerned with specifics regarding the mutants and how the new therapy technique worked, I was most fascinated. There also came a point when I stopped and asked myself if I was being paranoid for characters. Perhaps there was a scientific explanation that connected all the strange happenings. But the movie was not just about the horror of the unknown corners of our minds. It was also about ethics such as a doctor’s relationship with his patients. How far should we push a patient to go through therapy when, if they had been in extended states of hypnosis which possibly altered their judgments, they were not aware of its effectiveness? Or worse, they were not allowed to see their loved ones so that they, too, could see how the therapy was coming along. I was constantly challenged because metaphysical and psychological questions often came up and just when I thought I arrived at a valid conclusion, new evidence made me question. In a way, it felt like I was analyzing the movie as my own patient. Even though it asked us to take certain leaps of faith such as the so-called psychoplasmic therapy, the material had a solid grasp between playing within the extremes based on today’s established psychology (such as psychosomatic disorders) and total unbelievability. The final twenty minutes was very memorable because it offered grotesque images even the most hardcore horror fans would be impressed with. “The Brood” may have been deliberately slow-paced but the rewards were plentiful. It was the kind of horror picture that did not sacrifice intelligence and actually incited thoughtful discussion about mutation as a tool (or side effect) of therapy.

Afterschool


Afterschool (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

Robert (Ezra Miller) was a sophomore in a private high school where kids were isolated from their parents so they were free to experiment with whatever they wanted. The high school made it a requirement for their students to take up sports or after school activities so Robert, having no interest in anything physical other than being intimate with another, chose to join the Video and Audio Club. While shooting at a hallway for an assignment, Robert accidentally captured two girls overdosing on cocaine. The event triggered a series of new rules as the students struggled to adapt to the death and their new environment. This film was good in some parts but it was mostly frustrating. I hated the scenes that reminded me of Michael Haneke’s “Caché,” where absolutely nothing would happen as the camera would linger at something random person or object. I think that is one of the main problems of movies adapting a style of faux-documentary or faux-realism: the filmmakers just don’t know when to cut certain scenes when the important element had been delivered. At times, nothing important would appear on screen at all. It then becomes an utter waste of time. The two main emotions I felt while watching this picture were anger and apathy. Anger because of the increasing frustration regarding dragged out scenes for no good reason. Apathy because of the subject matter. I felt like I was back in high school. One of my biggest disappointments with the film was it didn’t feature one healthy, clear-minded student with goals that go far beyond their current institution. When the two students died, honestly, I didn’t care. For me, they were just twins who happened to be addicted to drugs. Yes, they were young but that was no excuse. I was their age once but I chose not to make highly stupid decisions. It was ultimately their choice to be involved in drugs. No amount of excuse such as the classic, “My parents don’t give me enough attention” would make me feel more sympathetic toward them–dead or alive. Then my feeling turned to anger again because the very same students who called them “cokeheads” behind their backs suddenly changed their minds, claiming that they would miss the twins and “nothing would ever be the same.” Give me a break. But then I wondered whether that was the director’s purpose: to expose the drug culture of schools today and to reveal the hypocrisy of both the students and the faculties. “Afterschool,” written and directed by Antonio Campos, is a challenging film but sometimes it was just plain wooden. I wouldn’t be surprised if one decided to stop watching the movie just thirty minutes into it. However, I liked the fact that it made me curious with what would happen and to see whether my hypothesis involving the main character’s psychological state was correct. And I was.

The Rite


The Rite (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue), son of a mortician, decided to go to seminary school because his family could not afford a four-year college education. His plan was to send his resignation after four years because he had serious doubts about his faith. When he did, a concerned priest (Toby Jones) sent him to Rome to attend an exorcism class led by Father Xavier (Ciarán Hinds). But this only increased Michael’s doubt as he brought up the questionable methods done by the Catholic church in terms of dealing with people who claimed to have been possessed. Avid in psychology, he claimed that demon possession had classic signs of known psychiatric disorders. Since seeing is supposedly believing, Father Xavier sent Michael to Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), a practicing exorcist in Rome. Inspired by a true story and based on a book by Matt Baglio, “The Rite” took a more realistic path in tackling the issue of exorcism, a practice undoubtedly still happening today. It was great to watch because it wasn’t afraid to acknowledge how exorcism was portrayed in movies. As Father Lucas puts it, when it came to exorcism, people tend to expect “spinning heads and pea soup,” referencing William Friedkin’s horror classic “The Exorcist,” but that wasn’t reality. The reality was people would come in for multiple sessions and a priest would try to exorcise the demon by attempting to find its name and getting control of it. A certain level of the unexplained was there, such as the supposed possessed person knowing certain things about another, but an uncanny level of insight could potentially be explained via an observation of behavioral responses and first impressions. I liked its approach and I was fascinated. Even though I don’t necessarily believe in the devil, I wish the film had spent more time in the classroom because it elucidated and dispelled common myths about the practice. But the picture also had elements of the supernatural. As Michael got deeper into his experiences with Father Lucas, he began to experience horrifying possible hallucinations like a demon taking on a form of a mule and hearing his dead father’s voice on the phone. He also had dreams about the time he saw his father cleaning up after his mother’s corpse. Was Michael experiencing symptoms of a mental illness? Or were the hallucinations and nightmares triggered by guilt? Guilt of leaving his father, guilt of using the seminary school, and guilt of continuing to deny that what he had seen could be real. Directed by Mikael Håfström, “The Rite” wasn’t a typical film about exorcisms because it was willing to laugh at itself and its characters. Since it was more grounded in reality, when the supernatural was thrown at us, the scares and creepiness were all the more effective.

Dogtooth


Dogtooth (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

We all know families that tend to overprotect their children. There are parents who purposely instill irrational fear in their children so their kids will behave or act proper in front of strangers. Some do it in order to discipline, a seemingly small price to pay for a bit silence at home. “Kynodontas,” daringly written by Efthymis Filippou and Giorgos Lanthimos, took the repercussions of parents who equate parenting as taking control and multipled it exponentially. The result was comedic and horrific, curious but effective. To say that “Dogtooth” was strange would be an understatement and simplistic. The patriarch (Christos Stergioglou) and matriarch (Michele Valley) of the family had connections to the real world. The mother acted as if she had never been outside of their property. She took comfort by hiding a telephone in the bedroom. Sometimes she would talk on the phone and her children would overhear. However, they believed that their mother had been talking to herself. The father, on the other hand, was free to go to work and shop for food. But he warned his children that the only way one could be safe outside of their property was to be inside a car. The three children in question (Hristos Passalis, Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni) were actually adults. Two were relatively content with their sheltered existence but one yearned to explore what was out there. She wanted objects not found in their home so when a stranger (Anna Kalaitzidou) came to visit, the daughter was willing to perform oral sex in exchange for such objects. The film immediately caught my attention because I hypothesized that the parents were some sort of really dedicated scientists involved in a behavior modification program. I surmised that the kids were genetically related to them but they saw the trio as nothing more than lab rats (they often wore white or some bland color). But as the picture unfolded, that wasn’t the case at all. I was mortified that they were actually serious about raising these kids because they thought it was the right thing to do. They purposely taught their children incorrect names for certain objects. I watched with a furrowed brow and the most perplexed expression. For instance, at the dinner table, one of the daughters asked her mother if she could pass the telephone. I thought, “Why would you need the telephone when you’re eating?” Out of nowhere, the mother grabbed the salt and handed it to her daughter. I was so puzzled with what was happening but I was undoubtedly entertained. What was even stranger was the fact that as the film went on, I was able to catch on with the incorrect labels and I actually understood what they meant to say. In a way, I became a part of the experiment which made me feel somewhat uneasy. Audiences who crave something unusual will be delighted by this oddity. Watson and Skinner would be proud.