the mountain

Kino Lorber
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Rick Alverson
Screenwriter: Rick Alverson, Dustin Guy Defa, Colm O’Leary
Cast: Tye Sheridan, Jeff Goldblum, Hannah Gross, Denis Lavant, Udo Kier
Screened at: Park Ave, NYC, 7/22/19
Opens: July 26, 2019

If you enjoyed a highbrow feature like Yorgos Lanthimos’s “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” a film that hones in on a young man who follows a surgeon around as though he were trying to be the doctor’s best friend, you might be looking forward to another ethereal drama, “The Mountain.” In this tale, a young man who never smiles follows a doctor around presumably because the older man performed a lobotomy on the kid’s mother. Given the status of Lanthimos and Rick Alverson as maverick directors, you figure you would enjoy “The Mountain,” but what you anticipated turns out to be a far more enigmatic, static, color-drained look at a strange decade in America in which women who were not as repressed as the rest of the population, women who had opinions of their own, were subject to pre-frontal lobotomies. If you saw “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” a solid, middlebrow look at a hospitalized man whose fellow inmates were so horrified by what happened to him after such surgery that they suffocated him. But don’t expect such a narrative to be present here.

Rick Alverson, whose “Entertainment” in 2015 is about a has-been comedian trying to revive his career in the Mojave Desert, is known in some circles as being anti-movie, even anti-pleasure. Those traits are visible here in a film that highlights a relationship between a despondent twenty-year old and a doctor who roams about the country performing lobotomies. Since Andy (Tye Sheridan) lost his mother, who is institutionalized, and since his stiff father Frederick (Udo Kier) died while teaching figure skating, Dr. Wallace Fiennes (Jeff Goldblum) befriends him, giving him a job (that could be make-work but looks needed) taking Polaroid pictures of women who are being lobotomized. Actually the term lobotomy is not mentioned, so Alverson trusts his sophisticated audience to put 2 and 2 together.

While lobotomies are said to be frequent as late as the 1950s, somehow Fiennes cannot find steady work and has to travel about the asylums of California (photographed largely in Washington State). The Polaroid pix are made into slides to show to the doctor’s colleagues. As a side hobby, the doc also administers electroshock. However the most catatonic person in the story is Andy, and he had not even had a lobotomy—yet.

The most memorable scene, one that might prompt some viewers to turn away in embarrassment, features Jack (Denis Lavant), who works as an alternative healer in hospitals but who is the craziest dude in the picture. Jack dances about the room giving spastic monologues in English, French and Franglich, subtitles provided. Jack authorizes a lobotomy for his daughter Susan (Hannah Gross), who like other women barely shows signs of rebellion, though in a moment of anguish. Suddenly Andy changes from his placid self into a roaring volcano.

What does it all mean? It could be a satiric look at lobotomies, but criticism of that horrid procedure is outdated. Maybe it’s a spoof of the 1950s, with those small-screen TV’s and dull entertainers, a prosperous era but one which produced and nurtured repressed people, especially women. Or maybe you don’t care, and shouldn’t.

106 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C-
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – C

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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