K-PAX

 

This movie stars Jeff Bridges as the psychiatrist Dr. Powell and Kevin Spacey as Prot from the planet K-PAX and came out in 2001.It is directed by Iain Softley.Be sure that you watch it on DVD so that you can see all the deleted scenes.

 

The movie starts out in Grand Central Station in New York City when Prot mysteriously just appears.When the police ask him where he is from and he explains that he is from the planet K-PAX, he is arrested and sent off to Bellevue, a psychiatric hospital.Bellevue shoots him up with a lot of Thorazine which has no impact so he is then transferred to another psychiatric hospital where specialists try to figure out what is going on.This is where Dr. Powell enters the story as it is puzzling that Prot did not react to the powerful anti-psychotic drugs as most patients do.

 

They begin to get to know Prot who is a very pleasant person who has consistent explanations about where he comes from and what life is like on K-PAX.He always wears sunglasses and they discover that he is sensitive to light on earth and that he can see ultra-violet rays, which is unheard of.Then Dr. Powell, through an astronomer friend has Prot tested and they find out he knows more about astronomy than any of them!At this point we are being convinced that he really is from a distant planet!

 

Then Dr. Powell takes Prot home for a July 4th celebration at his house and watches as Prot relates to his family and especially when he pushes Dr. Powellís daughter on the swing---clearly showing how he knows how to do this with care and caution---which is something Prot would not know how to do as families donít exist on K-PAX.When the sprinklers go on, Prot explodes and they have to restrain him, but when they go off he is just fine again.In the next scene we begin to change our opinion.Perhaps this is a savant, a unique genius that can do things that normal people cannot even imagine doing.Such people do exist; we saw a good example of this is the movie Rain Man.Perhaps Prot is just one of the multiple personalities of some psychotic individual that we can learn about by hypnotizing and then regressing Prot.So we start to think of rational explanations, only then to have Prot disappear from the hospital for three days.Maybe he is after all a time traveling K-PAXian???

 

While they are trying to figure Prot out we see him helping other patients in the hospital.However, even more importantly we see that he is having an impact on Dr. Powell.Dr. Powell is estranged from his grown son from a former marriage and is not really doing well in terms of this marriage.This movie is not really about psychiatry, although you get to learn a lot of important things about the treatment of mental illness through the movie.This movie is not really about extraterrestrials, although you vacillate back and forth about whether or not Prot really is from another planet---and even at the end it is not perfectly clear whether or not he is from another planet or not.What this movie is really about is relationships and how individuals change one another---for better or worse.That is also very important in the world of therapy.A good therapist not only helps their clients, but uses the relationship to help themselves grow as well.When they lose that give and take dimension, then the therapist tends to lack empathy, to burn out, to not be as real as you need to be with your clients.That is what has been happening to Dr. Powell prior to meeting Prot and Prot is a challenging enough patient that he begins to recharge the doctors batteries and get him going again both professionally and personally.

 

When Dr. Powell hypnotizes Prot and regresses him we finally start to understand what is really going on here.We find out about Petey, later we find out that his name is Robert Porter.As a child Robertís father was injured where he worked at the slaughterhouse and eventually the father dies.This loss is very traumatic for Robert and it is probably somewhere around this time that Robert creates another personality, K-PAX.Why someone from a distant planet.Because one of the things that Robert does with his father is watch the stars and study them.We now also begin to see where his knowledge of astronomy comes from.After the father dies, Robert grows up and takes a job at the slaughterhouse as a slammer, the man who kills the cow with a sledgehammer blow to the head.He gets married and with his wife Sarah has a child Rebecca.We donít know this, but probably Robert is throughout these years continuing his relationship with Prot and independently studying astronomy.He is a genius who has grown up in a rural environment and never had the benefits of a university education.His genius expresses itself through Prot and the study of astronomy.

 

Then the horrific happens.One day a drifter comes by their isolated rural home in New Mexico and while Robert is away the man rapes and murders his wife and then also kills the daughter.Robert arrives home before the man has left and he kills the man.The sprinkled and swing are in the yard when Dr. Powell visits the abandoned home with the local Sheriff.In his agony Robert attempts suicide in the river behind the house.However, he doesnít drown; instead the personality that comes out of the river is Prot who has taken completely over to protect Robert from the horror of what has happened.

 

One of the nice features of the regression series of scenes is that we see Dr. Powell trying to put all the pieces together to find out what really happened.This is a good example of how a competent therapist is like a detective.You are trying to find the pieces of the puzzle and put them together.When Dr. Powell confronts Prot and lets him know that he really is Robert, Prot just goes on as his Prot personality is the only one that exists for him.On the anniversary of death of Robertís wife and daughter, Prot plans on returning to K-PAX.Everyone on the ward is waiting for the moment.Prot has promised to take one of them with him.Even the orderlies on the ward are betting on whether or not Prot is from another planet.When the moment comes, the Prot personality does disappear, leaving behind a catatonic Robert Powell.

 

However, one of the other patients also disappears as no one can find Bess and this is a locked ward so that she couldnít just walk off!

 

The final scene is months later as it is now winter.Dr. Powell is talking with Prot as he pushes him along in a wheelchair updating him on what has been happening.Prot is still catatonic.But, given that the doctor is still reaching out to him, I elect to believe that over time this bright and sensitive human being will recover and perhaps lead a successful career as an astronomer.

 

But we also at the end hear Prot tell us what the movie is really about. You see, the universe is expanding, however, one day it will contract and then expand again and then go repeatedly through this cycle.Each time the world expands, everything is exactly as it was the first time.Therefore, you had better do everything you can to get it right this time!We also see Dr. Powell responding differently, living up to what Prot has said, as we see him interacting with his formerly estranged grown son.

 

If you stay around for the end of the credits you will hear a lovely song by Sheryl Crow entitled ďSafe and SoundĒ and then when the credits are entirely over you will see one final scene from the movie in which you see Dr. Powell in his backyard with a telescope looking up at the stars.

 

Also, if you watch the deleted scenes you will see several scenes that are designed to convince you further that Prot is an alien.But then you will also see a scene where the doctor is with his wife and she is playing the piano.Since this is a deleted scene you donít know exactly where it was designed to fit in.Most likely it was fairly early on as Dr. Powell has been treating Prot and not being able to get a handle on what is going on.He is having difficulty coming up with a diagnosis.His wife tells him of her old piano teacher who said: ďDonít play the notes.If you just play the notes you miss it.ĒI am sorry this was cut from the movie because it is a great line and tells you lots of important things about therapy.If you get too caught up in details, you miss the big picture.If you as a watcher of this film get too caught up in the details trying to figure out whether Prot is an alien or not, then you too miss the big picture.You miss the message that you need to get it right this time around.You miss that this movie is all about relationships.

 

P.S.For those of you that demand the details, you can find an answer for everything Prot is able to do.For example, keeping in mind that he is smarter than the doctors or those who built the locked ward, it is possible for him to find a way out and back again without their knowing---perhaps through the ventilation shaft???Who knows?I donít have to know, because Iím not as smart as Prot the savant.This is how Bess, the patient, also disappears as Prot tells her of the way to get out.The astronomers who begin to think that Prot is really from out of space are lead to this conclusion because they canít imagine another way that Prot could come up with his information.But that is because they are not savants like Prot.When I watch Amadeus and realize what Mozart could do, wow, it could also lead me to think that he was from out of space too!I could also formulate a theory that Prot was in a former life a great astronomer so that he brought that knowledge with him into this life.Hey, you say to me, what about his ability to see ultra-violet light!It is known that with multiple personalities one personality can be biologically different than another personality---all in the same body!It defies logic, but it happens.One personality is nearsighted, another has 20/20 vision.One personality is not allergic to oranges and the other breaks out in hives upon eating one.Donít underestimate the fantastic and transforming powers of human beings. But, once again, it is important to not get caught up in such musings.They can be fun, but donít let them distract you from paying attention to the real meanings and lessons of this interesting movie.