Reviewed by: Carole McDonnell
1 hr. 47 min.
Year of Release:
“The Cell,” Jennifer Lopez’s summer-of-2000 release, is reminiscent of several other releases, yet it has a certain creepy uniqeness. Like “Altered States” of 1980, it ponders the world of coma victims. Like Hitchcock’s 1964 “Marnie”, the plot centers not around the crimes or the victims of the crime, but around the motivation of a criminal. And like “Silence of the Lambs”, it is eerily disturbing and just plain creepy. Don’t see this film alone, especially if you’re a woman and a mother.
A serial killer Carl Stargher, (played by Vincent D’Onofrio) is on the loose. He drowns and bleaches his victims in large vats of chlorinated water and dresses them up like dolls. A tortured soul, he also wants to get caught. FBI agent, Vince Vaughan is called into the case. The killer is found, but his latest victim is still out there… locked up in a cell, water frequently gushing into it. Enter Catherine Deane, played by Jennifer Lopez. She is a sensitive therapist who is able to enter into the quasi dream-state of comatose victims through modern cinematic medicine and, with insight, compassion, and love, bring about healing.
This film has received many bad reviews. Perhaps the reviews are a bit harsh. Don’t get me wrong: the reviewers are right about the gore and evil in the film. This movie was very stressful to watch, especially the scenes where the young child-serial-killer-to-be is abused by his father. Other strong content includes strong profanity, perversion of sexuality, and corpse nudity.
A scene that raised my eyebrows was Jennifer Lopez as the Virgin Mary. I like Jennifer Lopez. I like the Virgin Mary. It was just interesting seeing them blended together as one character. The therapist had concentrated on this image of love and goodness in order to combat the evil that was thwarting the serial killer’s. Another scene that raised my eyebrows and annoyed me somewhat is the baptism scene. The film states that this child’s schizophrenia became full-blown at the moment of his baptism. What, we ask ourselves, are we to make of that?
There is something else: there is the subtle loose end of the evil Molokai, a force that seems to be bothering another comatose victim in the film. Is this force the child’s own manifestation of evil? Or is the force external to the child, like a demon? Throughout the film, one gets the idea that some kind of superhuman supernatural entity is working through the serial killer. Things happen in the therapist’s sessions with the serial killer that never happened before. Is the force within the killer powerful enough to change the mode of therapy and to change worlds? The idea of some Other Evil Being isn’t fleshed out. Perhaps the screenwriters didn’t want to get into anything too supernatural, though there were moments where strange occultic symbols are seen on the therapist’s hands. But it does leave the viewer with the feeling that we’re only getting half the story.
One leaves the film not quite knowing what it says about the supernatural. But we do know what it says about serial killers: According to this film, they are people who are not lucky or strong enough to survive great abuse. They hurt as a means of gaining power and their power is their way of healing themselves and others. They really are killing their victims to either spare their victims or for sexual satisfaction. And serial killers generally had some past traumatic religious experience.
“The Cell” teaches that love is the way to heal these extremely wounded serial killers. The film is very compassionate towards people we consider evil (which is good). I believe in the power of love, but in the end of the movie, we see a dream-state mercy killing done by the Virgin Mary dream image in a baptism. (It was the only way for the victimized serial killer to escape his evil self.) Does love ever go this far? And is this sacrilege or not? The killer didn’t die to self or admit his sinfulness, just his weakness and his pain. And who would think the Virgin Mary would be used as a symbol of something the Catholic Church objects to?