The most artsy film you will see this year
“The Mountain” is unlike any film you’ve probably seen before.
Set in the 1950’s, Andy (Tye Sheridan), a seemingly confused and possibly depressed individual, lives with his father and works in the ice skating rink his father teaches at. Andy’s mother, was sent to a psychiatric hospital; whether she is alive or not is unclear. Andy’s life can best be described as subtly repressed. It’s clear that he does not like his father and that his father disapproves of Andy on a fundamental level. During a breakfast scene, Andy tells his father of dream he had, in which he replies in a disgusted manner that he is just like his mother. Through this repression, Andy is confused, ashamed, and void of any real connection with another person, emotionally and physically.
One day, Andy’s father suddenly dies on the ice and Andy is now alone and free. While selling his father’s belongings at a yard sale, a man comes to by a pipe and introduces himself as Wallace Fiennes or just Wally for short (Jeff Goldblum). Wally was one of his mother’s physician at the hospital, a position he no longer holds. Over lunch, Wally invites Andy to accompany him on his road trip across the country as his photographer, where they travel from hospital to hospital performing medical procedures and taking pictures of those procedures and the patients. Those procedures being lobotomies and electroshock therapy to patients whose mental health is unclear before, yet are certainly destroyed and emotionless husks afterwards. Witnessing these procedures and the effects they have on the patients only makes Andy wonder if Wally performed the same thing with his mother.
As they travel, Andy tries to find connection to his mother that has been absent for so long through the patients and through the use of a French “Ouija board”-esque toy. Seeing the patients after being lobotomized, he tries to see if they are still capable of feeling a connection. He also meets a woman who happens to have a daughter in the hospital they plan to visit next. Like his father, she too feels disgust towards her daughter’s mental state. He later meets her daughter, Susan (Hannah Gross), someone unlike the other patients. She is broken yet full of life and unashamed of her sexuality. She is taken back home with her father, where he plans to have Wally freelance his procedures there. Before that, Andy and Susan share an intimate moment together, seeing her be so unashamedly free makes him feel the same for the first time. Yet, that is quickly broken when Wally barges in accidentally. Wally performs the electroshock therapy and lobotomy, turning even this once free woman, into a numb and quiet figure. Having enough of this, Andy lashes out and his fate is sealed soon after when he too is lobotomized.
The characters in this film are quite complex and interesting, especially Jeff Goldblum’s character Wally. He is a charming, womanizing man. Every night on their journey, Wally flirts, dances, and spends the night with different women. Outside of the hospital he is the exact opposite of Andy. Where Andy is quite, uncomfortable, and sometimes annoyed, Wally is funny, flirtatious, and engaging. However, that demeanor is contrasted by his behavior in the hospital. He is serious, quiet, and sometimes cruel. At one point, he messes up a lobotomy, seemingly killing his patient and yet coldly tells the nurse to “get her the fuck of the table”. When operating, he views his patients not as people, but objects that prove his success.
Wally’s procedures are questionable at best. It is eluded that there are better, more human procedures available and that his practice is under threat. Deep down, it seems, Wally is aware of the damages his procedures cause. He needs to succeed in his operations to prove to others that his methods are humane and effective. However, he tries to make the patients seem as human as possible afterwards by putting makeup on them, simply because he knows they are far from it. We see his confidence in his practice slowly eat at him as Andy continues to shed doubt and question what he does to these people. He starts to pause before performing the procedure with looks of doubt and shame across his face. He tells Andy that the families are grateful, that the patients are happier, and that he receives countless thank you letters. He isn’t trying to convince Andy; he’s trying to convince himself by casting delusions so that he can remain morally detached.
Tye Sheridan’s character, Andy, is also quite interesting. Through the course of the movie we see him subtly develop connections. He observes the hospitals and interacts with the patients, allowing him to understand and connect with his mother. He is guided by Wally, observing his flirtatious nature and developing his own connection with women. He is even guided by Rick (Denis Lavant), Susan’s father. Who delivers two extraordinary monologues that inspire Andy to connect with life, allowing him to overcome his life-draining lobotomy.
The cinematography in this film is quite amazing. The camera is often still, framing a scene and letting the actors work within its walls. And when it isn’t, it’s creating a fairly breathtaking view, like when the car is driving down a meandering forest road, the camera is tracked with the car perfectly, creating a feeling that the car is stationary and the background is the only thing moving. Another interesting and unique aspect of the movie is how sparse dialogue is. With so few words- especially with Andy- to convey their emotions and thoughts, the film instead relies on the character’s behavior and facial expressions to tell the story. All of this is done with extreme subtly and yet its delivery is very powerful.
“The Mountain” is an incredibly unique film and Rick Alverson a unique filmmaker. The style, direction, and themes of this film are used not to necessarily entertain, but to inform. It leaves you thinking about it days later and I believe that is what Alverson intended.