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By Merle Bertrand | April 26, 2001

Lucinda (Molly Maslin) and Leon (Dean Howell) Maddox are highly educated professionals whose lives are falling apart around them. First there was their son Christophe’s (Thomas Curtis) near-drowning in the family swimming pool; an accident that’s left the otherwise healthy young boy totally mute. Lucinda, a renowned university chemist, feels responsible for this accident and it’s started to affect her work. So much so, in fact, that when daydreaming about Christophe’s accident one day, she spills a potentially lethal dose of mercury on her hands at the lab, yet doesn’t even realize the possible danger.
Not feeling well, she goes to the doctor and receives the dire news that she has a probably terminal case of mercury poisoning. As Lucinda begins deteriorating before her stunned family’s eyes, first going blind and then deaf, Leon tries to keep the family together, while Lucinda struggles to keep functioning and continues to reach out to her traumatized son; to bring him back before her affliction kills her.
Yes, “Silent Mercury” is every bit as gloomy and depressing as it sounds. If you were deeply disturbed by “Beaches,” “Philadelphia,” or “Brian’s Song,” I highly recommend you not see this film. If you choose to avoid it, however, you will miss a moving film from director Jadrien Ford Steele that celebrates family values better than any Republican convention could ever dream of.
Maslin and Curtis are excellent here as the afflicted mother and son, respectively. Cinematographers Kirk Boornazian and Avika Potok, meanwhile, do a sublime job of imbuing this film with the coolish silver-blue tint we’ve come to associate with this lethal liquid metal. Only the film’s ending, touching as it is, emerges as problematic in its ambiguity. Are we watching a miracle take place, or the ultimate end of Lucinda and Christophe’s parallel harrowing voyages?
Hard to say as “Silent Mercury” slips away on a frustrating, unclear finale that lingers behind like residue in a test tube.

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