Review: The Mountain
The Mountain is a new drama from writer/director Rick Alverson. Set in 1950s America, the story revolves around a young man named Andy (Tye Sheridan) who becomes the personal photographer of traveling doctors named Dr. Wallace “Wally” Fiennes who performs lobotomies and shock treatment at a time when both methods were becoming more and more discouraged. I didn’t know much about this movie going in except that it was not about the Game of Thrones character but even that would’ve been more interesting than this movie.
“For a number of my projects, I’ve been interested in the sort of complex, somewhat fraudulent, somewhat blind examples of the American psyche and how it runs off the rails and how it’s sort of uncontained and when it’s uncontained, how problematic it can be,” Director Rick Alverson said. “And the American ideal, how problematic that can be when it’s uncontained and unregulated. How dangerous and cinema’s culpability in all that.
One of the more positive comments I can make about The Mountain is that it is incredibly well made. The movie’s stunning desaturated color palette fits with its bleak and depressing atmosphere and has an almost gothic feel. Many shots have a great sense of symmetry and remind me of Wes Anderson if his movies were much slower. Unfortunately, there were some odd editing choices such as how the movie abruptly cuts from a scene where Andy looks for Wally in an empty forest to a scene where Andy watches Wally play pinball in a bar. The film never explains what happens to Wally in the forest so why show him getting lost in the first place?
The performances in The Mountain are also exceptional even if the characters they play are much less so. Tye Sheridan is incredibly convincing as this timid and quiet protagonist who is unsure about what he is doing. It is quite distinct from his performances in more mainstream movies such as Ready Player One and the last two X-Men films (X-Men: Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix). Jeff Goldblum is also terrific as the charming and charismatic doctor who when he isn’t performing controversial medical procedures is wooing local women. He and French actor Denis Lavant provide some much-needed levity to an otherwise bleak film. Lavant’s character does not actually show up until the end, so his scenes feel somewhat tacked on despite how entertaining his over-the-top performance is. Hannah Gross from Mindhunter is good too but there isn’t much to say about her character. In fact, there isn’t much to say about any of the characters outside of what I have already said about them. This apparent lack of character development may have been what Alverson was going for, but it simply did not work for me.
“There’s a long history and now it exists just as much if not predominantly in episodic television,” Alverson said. “Cinema is a kind of social anesthesia and television and sort of most media, social media, that essentially facilitates a kind of passivity in the populations rather than an active critical intelligence. And its role is predominantly to pacify the audience by validating their expectations and assuring their world views, coddling them as opposed to challenging them. The cinema that made me want to become a director upset me and it confused me and it made me. What seems more aware in life, I want to work in that tradition.”
What truly makes me dislike The Mountain is the screenplay. After Wally takes Andy under his wing, most of the movie is going to mental institutions, watching Wally perform lobotomies and shock treatment on mental patients, seeing Andy photograph and interview those patients, watching Wally hit on women, rinse, and repeat. It doesn’t help that the film meanders so much and feels so aimless that I vividly remember checking my watch several times throughout the screening. What’s worse is that I was unsatisfied after the movie ended. I usually love slow-burn dramas and thrillers, but they have to keep me invested and this film simply doesn’t. The movie would also throw in weird images that are almost never referenced again to make it “artsier.” I didn’t even learn much about lobotomies while I watched this movie.
Verdict: 2 out of 5
The Mountain has its moments but is ultimately a waste of time. The film is a dull, aimless bore regardless of its great performances and even better filmmaking. Arthouse fans may enjoy this movie for what it is, which may explain why it is simply not for me.