(director/writer: Rick Alverson; screenwriters: Dustin Guy Defa/Colm O’Leary; cinematographer: Lorenzo Hagerman; editors: Michael Taylor, Rick Alverson; music: Robert Donne; cast: Jeff Goldblum (Dr. Wallace Fiennes),  Tye Sheridan (Andy), Udo Kier (Frederick), Hannah Gross (Susan), Denis Lavant (Jack); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Sara Murphy, Ryan Zacarias, Alison Rose Carter, Eddy Moretti; Kini Lorber; 2018-in English, French and German)

“If you want to see trauma, you’ll get an eyeful here.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A convention defying grim arthouse coming-of-age drama/comedy, which is a confusing but provocative oddball satirical film about a case of a broken psyche being treated by an experimental lobotomy surgeon (whose technique calls for an ice pick to be inserted into the eye socket). By the way, Freeman had no training as a surgeon. It’s set in 1954, by director-writer  Rick Alverson (“New Jerusalem”/”The Comedy”). Alverson and his co-writers Guy Defa and Colm O’Leary loosely base the script on the story of controversial physician Walter Freeman, who specialized in lobotomies.The events may be true, but the movie’s story is fictional. It’s an acquired taste art film, certainly not for all. Jeff Goldblum deserves kudos for his alluring, creepy, wacko performance as Freeman, but the film takes too many wrong turns into banal territory for its own good.

We’re in the 1950s. The laconic, sexually-screwed-up and catonic teenager Andy (Tye Sheridan), in the country’s heartland, drives the Zamboni at a local ice rink. His insensitive German father Frederick (Udo Kier), a prohibitive former figure skater, teaches figure skating to mainly young girls, and remains distant from his emotionally needy son. Andy’s mom was some time ago placed in the local mental institution, and he’s not aware of her fate.

After Andy’s father dies, Dr. Wallace Fiennes (Jeff Goldblum), the physician who treated Andy’s mother for an unnamed illness arrives at the local institution Andy’s mom was kept. The itinerant physician, who is told by the institution they will no longer use his services, invites Andy to come along with him on one of his trips as a photographer. The manipulative physician wants Andy to document his work to show other institutions what he does in order to get work. Andy takes up the offer hoping to find out what happened to his mother. 

The road trip that follows is eerie and menacing, as it’s filled with gruesome images of anguished people seemingly frozen in space and in time. They are similar to the photos Andy takes of Fiennes’ patients, before and after the insane “procedures.” If you want to see trauma, you’ll get an eyeful here.Though Fiennes is a zealot who truly believes he is helping his patients, the filmmaker makes sure that we know this is not true when viewing all his ghastly surgeries performed in various institutions across a depleted and sad looking America.

This un-commercial heart-breaking film ends in misery, as perhaps it should. Though a strangely curious film, one that is truly unique, I can’t recommend it to anyone who is not willing to risk seeing something so unpleasant and with so little reward.

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REVIEWED ON 7/27/2019       GRADE: B