starring Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, Alfre Woodard, mary McCormack, Peter Gerety and Saul Williams
written by Charles Leavitt
directed by Iain Softley
Based on the novel by Gene Brewer, Kevin Spacey plays Prot (a.k.a. Robert Porter) who claims to be an alien from the planet K-PAX. Of course, he is apprehended in a public place and then taken to a psychiatric hospital for assessment and treatment. His doctor turns out to be Jeff Bridges (Dr. Mark Powell). I find this a little amusing because Jeff Bridges himself played an alien many years ago in the movie Starman. The difference, though, is that in Starman Jeff Bridges really was an alien, while in K-PAX Kevin Spacey is not, but rather just a mentally disturbed man. Or, maybe not.
The story is written in such a way that we are left with a window of opportunity to continue believing that he really is from the planet K-PAX. But probability is against it.
I think psychiatry is evil.
Prot is convincing as an alien. A natural mathematical genius, he is able to give a convincing mathematical explanation of himself, even before a panel of experts. (Dr. Powell’s brother-in-law is an astronomer. He takes Prot to meet his brother-in-law and other professors in the hope that they will expose the fallacy of his dementia to have traveled to earth from a distant planet, and then, once faced with the fallacy, a personal conflict might occur that could open a door to his real identity and the trauma in his life that rendered him mentally ill.) In the hospital his good nature, patience, general cheerfulness, and apparent self-bemused tolerance of the efforts of the human doctors and nurses to ‘cure’ him are an inspiration to the other patients. So the other patients come to idolize him in much the way that Jack Nicholson’s character in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was
Dr. Powell is almost desperate to track down Prot’s true identity in order to understand his condition and begin treating him. He is racing against a bureaucratic deadline to send him from a New York City clinic to a state hospital where, we assume, hw will simply be lost forever in the bureaucracy of state institutionalization.
So my interest in the story really perked up here when the doctor traced Prot’s life to a rural New Mexicotown called Guelph (pronounced “gelf”). This is exactly the name of my hometown in Ontario, Canada, except that we pronounce it “gwelf,” currently a city of about 110,000 people within easy commuting distance of metropolitan Toronto.
Many consider my hometown “rural,” although I have long though that couldn’t be true considering the population, the university, and the proximity to other cities (namely Toronto). It is true, though, that one of the largest attractions at the University of Guelph is the Ontario Agricultural College, the government has its Ministry of Agriculture offices there, and the surrounding countryside is excellent farm land - lots of corn - heavily used.
(Admittedly, there are many aliens in my hometown. We originate form the planet Zatox and we inevitably leave the city to travel the world once we mature and hatch from our pods.)
Why is it that if/when a person claims to be an alien from another planet the first reaction is to assume first that they are joking and, second, if the person persists in the claim, that he/she is mentally ill? It seems to me that this is clearly the wrong initial attitude to take. Instead, I have always proposed that one should first assume that people who make such claims are speaking the absolute truth. Then, only if/when their claims are discounted should alterative explanations, such as mental illness, be posed.
Using the mental health infrastructure of a society psychiatrists have a lot of scope to make horrible mistakes that can pass unnoticed and unquestioned by the public that is apathetic to such patients in the first place and unthinkingly accepts when professionals declare to be ‘normal’ versus ‘ill’ behavior and ideas. I think psychiatry is evil.