Film Reviews

THE JACKET

By • Mar 4th, 2005 •

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QUOTE: An effective claustrophobic nightmare.

I had a brief encounter with claustrophobia when entering the Great Pyramid at Giza. Crouching down I took only a few deep steps downward before stopping. There was some screaming and the line of tourists behind me had to retreat. Since there was an attendant at hand to immediately give me my ticket money back, a lot of people must find out they cannot tolerate the imposed claustrophobic conditions. My second experience was slightly different. Going into the large, spider-like catacombs beneath Cappadocia, Turkey, I experienced a trance-like state conducive to the suffocating environment. It is not surprising that Cappadocia’s caves helped spread Christianity.

Poor Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) can’t catch a break: He’s mortally wounded in the head in The Gulf War and is miraculously brought back to life. A few years later, walking through a blizzard in Vermont, he gets a ride from a young guy (Brad Renfro) who, when stopped, kills a state trooper. The jury finds Starks guilty by reason of insanity and sends him to a hospital for the criminally insane. Starks has no memory of any events in his past. No sooner is Starks settled in that he is used as a guinea pig by Dr. Becker (Kris Kristofferson), a modern-day Angel of Death. Like Dr. Josef Mengele, Becker has no Board of Ethics overseeing his bizarre medical practices. Becker puts his psychiatric patients in a straitjacket, pumps them up with fancy narcotics, and then places them in a morgue drawer for hours. It takes a few minutes for the claustrophobia + narcotics to induce vivid hallucinations.

At the institution, Starks is also supervised by Dr. Lorenson (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who has continued to question the techniques Dr. Bender uses. Instead of informing the authorities, she ministers to a friend’s autistic son. Starks is told by another patient, Mackenzie (Daniel Craig), to simply relax and enjoy the experience of being “buried.”

Starks goes into the future where he finds love and the mystery of his impeding death – in four days – by a blow to the head. He becomes compelled to return to The Jacket and The Morgue Drawer. Before entering the institution, Starks had met young Jackie Pride and her mother (Kelly Lynch). When he goes into “The Jacket,” he is re-united with Jackie, now a young woman (Keira Knightley), who is an alcohol-soaked waitress. It is 15 years in the future and Starks knows the only time they have together is when he is in “The Jacket.” They begin a love affair.

This is the kind of story that defies linear logic. As someone who believes in John of God and the reality of a Spirit World operating alongside our own, all the mumbo-jumbo time-traveling of THE JACKET makes perfect sense to me. Enforced isolation (see “From Antarctica to Outer Space: Life in Isolation and Confinement” edited by my friend Albert A. Harrison with Yvonne Clearwater and Christopher McKay) is a serious problem. A lack of stimulation and sensory deprivation can cause psychological traumas and hallucinations.

Skillfully directed by John Maybury, THE JACKET is based on a story by Tom Bleecker and Marc Rocco. The screenplay is by Massy Tadjedin. Maybury brings about a haunted environment to the screen. The washed-out palette, the snow and dreary working-class setting, the constant smoking and drinking, and Brody’s severe physical condition, all foreshadow the inevitable outcome. Brody once again can use personal trauma as a menacing emotional tool. It is his performance that galvanizes and gives THE JACKET a strong tenor. You will think about this movie long after seeing it.

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