The Mountain presents a mid-century America stripped of its high design gloss, faded and flawed, but still populated with stylish, elegant artifacts.
Tye Sheridan plays Andy, an introverted Zamboni driver who keeps the ice clean for his father Frederick (a sadly underutilized Udo Keir). Frederick teaches figure skating. Andy’s mother is institutionalized with an unspecified mental illness. Behind a series of unfortunate events, Andy meets Dr. Wallace Fiennes (Jeff Goldblum). Once a celebrated lobotomist Fiennes’ stock-in-trade treatments (portable ECT and lobotomy performed in state hospitals or the privacy of your own home) are falling out of favor with the medical community. Fiennes tells Andy that he had treated his mother, who was in a state hospital, but he no longer has the connections to get Andy in to see her.
These days, Doc Wally Fiennes spends as much time trying to convince everyone that his therapies are still valid as he does implementing them. He asks Andy to go on the road with him to carry his gear and take pictures of his patients. He carefully explains that sometimes the best that can be done for a person and his/her family is to put the person in an “innocuous” state. Fiennes does makeup on the female patients (the patients are mostly female) covering their surgical bruises, so they look pretty for the family after having their frontal lobes disconnected.
“…the best that can be done for a person and his/her family is to put the person in an ‘innocuous’ state.”
The Mountain clearly draws from several sources, but primarily is Lynchian right down to red curtains and deep, disturbing synth tones crawling up the viewer’s arm. If you walked through the black lodge in Twin Peaks and out the back door into the upside-down, that’s where this film is set. It even comes complete with an unintelligible short person, a French artist named Jack (Denis Lavant) raving drunkenly about semiotics in a random stream of French and English. Jack seeks the doctor out to provide that special “therapy” for his willful and troublesome daughter. Fiennes does the lobotomy in their living room with a drink in his hand.
The pace is slow, people shuffling around lethargically such that it’s hard to tell who’s been lobotomized. The road trip passes by ponderously as Fiennes drives slowly on the rural roads of California. The colors are muted, sickly institutional greys and pale greens.
“…clearly draws from several sources, but primarily is Lynchian right down to red curtains and deep, disturbing synth tones…”
Tye Sheridan masterfully inhabits Andy, portraying the man-boy with no past or future, gliding along, seeing sights he cannot unsee as the clueless henchman. Goldblum’s charm is irrepressible and shines through the personality of the womanizing, drunken, has-been doctor, which makes the character that much more creepy.
In one of his drunken screeds, Jack howls in rage that a painting of a mountain is not the mountain, but rather a cheap gas-station picture. American zeitgeist around life in the ’50s is a colorful, cheaply done metaphor hiding a darker reality about a generation that, in this tale, literally lobotomized their children.
The film runs long. Director Rick Alverson could have wrapped up this disturbing meditation in less time and still been as effective at painting his precisely beautiful dark image.
The Mountain (2018) Directed by Rick Alverson. Written by Rick Alverson, Dustin Guy Defa. Starring Tye Sheridan, Jeff Goldblum, Denis Lavant. The Mountain screened at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.
7 out of 10