review by Cynthia
Fuchs, 21 November 2003
Miranda Grey (Halle Berry) is worried about her puffy-faced patient,
Chloe (Penélope Cruz). It appears that the girl, incarcerated at
the very cold and creepy Woodward Penitentiary for Women for killing
her stepfather, is "embellishing her rape story." During
one of those movie-style shrink-sessions where the camera circles
them, hunched over a table inside a cage, Chloe asserts that she's
being raped in her cell by the devil: "He tore me like paper,
he opened me like a flower of pain, and it felt good." When
Miranda encourages Chloe to ease up on the details and trust her,
the patient hands her Gothika's tagline: "You can't
trust someone who thinks you're crazy."
erupts into paroxysms of spit and resistance, so that the guards
come in to drag her off. Miranda, meanwhile, begins her long walk up
from the institution's bowels, her shoes clicking on hard floors, to
the upper floor offices. Here she meets with her supervisor, Doug
(Charles Dutton), who stands her in front of a mirror and assures
her that she's brilliant and rational, that she'll figure out how to
make Chloe "accept" her fantasy as such. At which point,
he kisses her, mouth open wide -- and the audience around me erupted
into screams and titters.
seconds, it's revealed that Miranda and Doug are married, and the
scary moment is past. But the mismatch (so very apparent to my
fellow viewers) haunts the rest of the film, partly because the kiss
is interrupted by Dr. Pete Graham (Robert Downey, Jr.), hovering at
the office door like the potential illicit love interest he's
supposed to be. That would be an interest for Miranda, though Pete
(and Downey, for that matter) is so dodgy and odd, he might easily
slide the other way. Doug's diffidence and Miranda's rejection of
Pete's dinner offer are plainly setting up intrigue that, drearily,
never pays off.
than dig into complex human relations, Gothika careens down
another road altogether, an increasingly mundane plot trajectory
initiated when Miranda drives off a literal road on her way home
that night. Caught in a horrendous thunderstorm, she's frightened by
the specter of a ravaged white girl, hair wet and bedraggled, face
bloodied, and the next thing you know, she's in a drafty cell at
Woodward, wearing an unfashionable open-backed gown. Pete stops by
for an update: she's killed her husband and gone crazy. And oh yes,
she's seeing dead people.
by Sebastian Gutierrez and directed by Mathieu Kassovitz (who made
the brilliant La Haïne), Gothika's tentative
intelligence pretty much collapses following this extended set-up.
The ghosty girl shows up periodically, at one point throwing her
against the cell walls for the apparent purpose of encouraging her
to escape (the logic here is somewhat sketchy). Though Pete briefly
notes that he should not even be assigned to the case, silly movie
logic demands that he step up. So, even as Miranda is wondering
whether they ever had an affair, he asks her for "the last
thing you remember," scooting up near to her and inviting her
to be the "rational" scientist he knows she can be. Her
eyes sunken, her face ashen, Miranda still looks like Halle Berry,
following some serious makeup sessions (not to mention the broken
wrist she suffered during filming).
Pete seems alternately beguiled and repulsed by his erstwhile crush
(they had no affair, he says, because she was "married to the
boss," though the film invites you to distrust Pete, if only
because he's so obviously un-smart), Miranda's new cellmates are
less wowed. Spotting her in the cavernous common room, Chloe sits
down to welcome her to the "other side": "You're one
of us now," she smiles. When Miranda protests that she doesn't
"belong here," Chloe smiles again, reminding her of the
implacably smug logic of the sane, as they judge the insane:
"If you're here, it must mean that you belong."
ooky dismantling of seeming sense understandably rattles Miranda,
whom Pete "the most logical person I know" (and such
assessment might be taken with a sizable grain of salt). She meets
with several male authority types -- her lawyer Teddy (Dorian
Harewood, and it's good just to see him), Doug's best friend Sheriff
Ryan (John Carroll Lynch), her supervisor at the hospital, Dr.
Parsons (Bernard Hill) -- but none is able to set the situation
straight or her mind at ease. In fact, the boys all tend to fall in
a line with Pete, assuming she's crazy, resenting that she's killed
their pal Doug.
might intuit here the beginnings of a political argument, having to
do, perhaps, with societal gender expectations or maybe
institutional abuses of prisoners. But the movie doesn't stretch so
far. Instead, it offers a mildly intriguing and repeated
restructuring of oppositions -- dream or reality, sane or insane,
trust or distrust -- provides for an increasingly distracting lack
of narrative cohesion. On one level, this hardly matters; it's a
gothic thriller and something of a murder mystery, so it's not
supposed to be linear. Still, some scene-to-scene connection would
the ghosty girl is eventually granted a name and particular
relationship to Miranda, as well as a righteous fury, she's resolved
into such a cliché of a motivation (for Miranda at least) that the
movie can't recover. Such pedestrian grounding (which pretends to be
moralistic but is mostly hysterical) renders the paranormal activity
-- and more importantly, Gothika's challenges to distinctions
between sane and insane -- strangely humdrum.
Robert Downey Jr.
John Carroll Lynch
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult