- compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2001 1 Jan
&quot;Prot" is a patient at a mental hospital who claims to have arrived on Earth on "a beam of light" from the planet K-PAX. His doctor, his fellow patients, and movie audiences aren't so sure.
Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges star in this "modern fable," only this time, Bridges is the skeptical doctor, not the Starman. Spacey plays this prophetic stranger as a light-sensitive wise man prone to gobbling up Earth's fruit—strawberries, apples, bananas—peel, seeds, and all. It's a simple story. Dr. Mark Powell and his colleagues grow frustrated as Prot starts effectively ministering to the needs of his fellow patients, encouraging them with platitudes and positive thinking. They are drawn to him, clinging to his whispered wisdom. The more Powell investigates Prot's origins, the more suspicious he becomes that Prot just might be what he claims to be. But Powell's work is keeping him from attending to his frustrated family. So can you guess who else Prot plans to heal?
This is quite a departure for director Iain Softley (The Wings of the Dove). He keeps the camera close to Spacey's knowing smirk and Bridges' furrowed brow. Cinematographer John Mathieson (Gladiator) puts on a splashy light show—sunlight pours through windows, reflects off glass skyscrapers, refracts through prisms, and falls from the sky like a hard rain of honey.
A few Christian-media critics saw the light of Christ reflected in Prot's behavior.
Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) highlights Prot's "genuine interest in the people he met and the moment he was in." He calls K-PAX "an allegorical tale of deliverance and salvation."
Mary Draughon (Preview) also thinks Prot has messianic merit: "Prot seems to understand the loneliness and fears of his fellow patients and helps draw them out of their mental isolation."
Holly McClure (The Orange County Register) calls K-PAX an "intelligent, heartwarming, well-written story with a tender message about how precious the gifts of life and love can (and should) be."
Jerry Langford (Movieguide) says the movie "promotes the values of hope, healing and redemption more than scientific cures, reconciliation more than pride, and family more than the fast-paced careers we pursue. It's a down-to-earth message for a society intent on moving at light-speed."
Others, however, found flaws in the film's philosophy.
"Powell learns a valuable lesson about the fragile glass menagerie that is the home, and takes steps to make every moment count," argues Bob Smithouser (Focus on the Family). "But aside from that message, prolonged reflection on K-PAX will likely yield sadness and frustration. Sadness because the film ends on a decidedly bittersweet note (more bitter than sweet)."
Similarly, the U.S. Catholic Conference's critic calls it a "disappointing drama" that "presents some intriguing questions about the human capacity for healing, but is ultimately unsatisfying in its abrupt switch of gears from lighthearted to grave."
This "bitter" end entails two things: a sobering crisis at the film's conclusion, and a last-minute voice-over sermon that warns us we will be burdened with our mistakes forever. Prot warns humankind that the universe is constantly expanding and collapsing, with the same results each time; thus, we are cursed to living the same lives. So, he says, we should try to get it right. The music swells, but unlike some of my fellow viewers I was not moved to happy tears. (My review is at Looking Closer.) Isn't Prot's warning like a threat of judgment, something to frighten us into living well? I prefer a messiah who inspires with a promise of forgiveness and grace, who points to an end to sadness. Spacey has ended two movies now with a dissatisfying monologue on the meaning of life. (Remember American Beauty?) So far, he's 0-2.
Mainstream critics were divided over the film. Some like the performances, but many found it to be a predictable package overstuffed with style and sentiment.
Michael Wilmington (Chicago Tribune) isn't convinced: "All Prot's fellow inmates seem to have dropped down from some other world—the planet of movie insane-asylum clichés." He finds the film inferior to those that inspired it—One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, King of Hearts, The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Brother From Another Planet, Starman, and Man Facing Southeast.
The Flick Filosopher says that Oscar-winner Spacey is following Robin Williams' example, getting lazy, hamming it up, and appearing wise by stating obvious truths "like the sun is bright and strawberries are good." Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum agrees: "First with Pay It Forward and now with K-PAX, [Spacey] has chosen to squish his big, complex talent into safe-movie containers—into characters who are walking moral lessons, not just men."