A Cure for Wellness (2017) - Can't Stop the Movies
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A Cure for Wellness (2017)

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Lockhart is taking the long route to the same sickness that led his father to suicide.  After the board leading his company threatens to punish his work, he is given the task to retrieve a man they may be able to pin their crimes on.  Shortly after arriving at the mysterious wellness asylum, Lockhart finds that the "cure" might not be what it seems.  Gore Verbinski directs A Cure for Wellness, with the screenplay written by Justin Haythe, and stars Dane DeHaan and Jason Isaacs.

For a fun writing experiment, sit down after watching A Cure for Wellness (simply Wellness moving on) and write what you think the tone is.  What happens is straightforward as Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) deals with dueling worlds of corporate takeovers and sinister asylums.  Gore Verbinski's tone, and the associated visual language, is all over the damn map in comparison.  There's bits of creature feature, shadowy espionage, body horror, and pulp that would have made Samuel Fuller proud.

That's just for starters, and it's no wonder Wellness bombed so thoroughly when released earlier this year.  Things are tough now and we're seeing the worst of humanity paraded about in our leadership.  Asking audiences to sit through two and a half hours of near unrelenting torment is a tall order, and I'd be lying if I said Wellness succeeded at the intense mishmash of genre influences Verbinski takes mighty aim at.  I'd also be lying to myself if I said I didn't enjoy Wellness in the same sense that my skin feels refreshed in the sun after removing a bandage that's been welded to my body for far too long.

Jarring dialogue has a purpose in exposing the rot beneath both the corporation Lockhart works for and the asylum he is sent to.

The key to Wellness' grotesque success lies in DeHaan's magnetic performance as Lockhart.  He embodies the sometimes contradictory sensations of exhaustion and overwhelming drive to succeed with each tired, if piercing, glare.  Leonardo DiCaprio was tasked with a similar role in Martin Scorsese's underappreciated Shutter Island, but Scorsese's pop instincts dulled DiCaprio's performance in a way Verbinski's unhinged visual imagination compliments DeHaan's.  DeHaan crafts a persona that feels entirely unique to my generation - hip to the cutthroat ways of capitalism, but too exhausted to do anything about it and still needing to eat in the meantime.

Which is why the asylum at first seems an appealing prospect to earlier generations.  Lockhart is summoned to a conference room so sterile and bleak it could have been an unused set from Verbinski's take on The Ring.  But the asylum with its lush green vegetation, strong gothic architecture, and that cute mysterious girl playing on the fountain present a surface-level appeal.  My generation is too tired and cynical of promises to get better with quick cures, so the measured hostility of DeHaan's earlier boardroom confrontation gives way to open aggression in the asylum.  At least in the boardroom, Lockhart knows he's not being sold a delusion.

What they share in common is a source of power stemming from white supremacy.  The boardroom presents this with subtlety, the token black man staying silent as the similarly positioned white woman asks Lockhart, "Have you ever had a 12-inch black dick in your ass?"  I was floored when I heard the line, wondering just what screenwriter Justin Haythe was up to, and then I considered the surrounding.  Black sexuality has long been weaponized by white supremacists to put fear into women, with the silent complicity of the lone black board member and advancing white male boss toward Lockhart, it becomes clear that this isn't the first or last time otherwise marginalized peoples have been tools for white supremacy.

The white supremacy of the asylum is so blatant I wonder if Wellness' earlier failure might pick up steam as a piece of resistance.  Dr. Heinreich Volmer (Jason Isaacs) is so obsessed with purity and health that the starch white uniforms of his staff and patients become an extension of his powerful grasp.  The not so vague Nazi tone mixed with the fashion style of the Ku Klux Klan gains disturbing resonance considering the events of this last week.  These people are sold a cure - purity - in exchange for their souls only for Lockhart to discover the "cure" is poison.  This coalesces into a visual metaphor of disturbing power with Lockhart attempting to get the patients to rise up against Dr. Volmer, only for them to repeat they are unwell and turn on Lockhart.  The mostly white mob clad in starch white robes following an evil German's lead in silencing dissent is as chilling as it is authentic.

Mia Goth has a tricky role where her spirited oblivious nature is revealed as something more sinister - though not by her choice.

Wellness' first hour is easily the weakest link in Verbinski's otherwise monstrously successful depiction of white supremacist power.  Too many scenes linger on story beats as familiar as they are unnecessary with Lockhart repeating the same questions to the same answers.  I'm also fine with a bit of foreshadowing, but after the fourth or fifth closeup of water dripping from faucets or other dispensaries I was tempted to yell, "I get it," to my vocal audience of no one.  Tighter editing in the first hour would have made Wellness one of the year's best instead of a topical curiosity.

Even so, Wellness underlines the collective unease of our powerlessness in the face of re-emerging white supremacist voices.  Verbinski has worked in this vein for years, be it through the vacuous media personality of The Weatherman or the more outright hostility of The Ring.  The menace is here, creeping slowly through our healthcare, businesses, and leaders.  Maybe the right choice is to burn it all down with a smile and goodbye.

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A Cure for Wellness (2017)

Directed by Gore Verbinski.
Screenplay written by Justin Haythe.
Starring Dane DeHaan and Jason Isaacs.

Posted by Andrew

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