Metaphor in Motion

So, Halloween - lots of scary movies all over cable tonight. My attempt to watch Peter Jackson's "Dead Alive" suffered from various distractions - it certainly seems a creative gorefest - but I did catch The Cell in full earlier in the evening.

Now, I could be assuming they put this on because it was Halloween. I'd be tempted to call it more of a thriller, actually. We have the serial killer (Vincent D'Onofrio) and the man trying to catch him (Vince Vaughn) and save his latest victim before it's too late.

From that, one would expect your usual suspenseful thrills, but not so much the creepy, uncertain feeling that horror films specialize in.

Now let's through in the fact that, in the first act, they catch this guy and he goes into an unusual coma-like-but-not-a-coma state, and then take him to a research facility where they're experimenting with putting people into the dreams of others, because "dream state" is probably the best way to describe where this guy is now.

Then let's throw a relatively unprepared Jennifer Lopez in this guy's dream - and he is fairly extreme sadomasochistic type. Her only real advantages are being a child psychologist, and having been around a child's brain long enough to be familiar with the territory. Why is this important? Well, they didn't find his latest victim at his house, but they know he has an automated system to drown her somewhere else, about forty hours after her capture. This guy is the only one with the information. Otherwise, they would have left well enough alone.

We spend most of our time in these dream states, and while I've not taken the full survey of important dream movies, I've been disappointed in what I have seen. Usually, these films are an excuse to show off in special effects and there's usually something always hiding around the corner to scare us.

I was pleased by more logical underpinnings here, pulling in motivation and aspects of the characters involved that were interesting. The human mind likes to think in metaphor - using a familiar but not necessarily related situation to explain an unfamiliar one - and in dreams, metaphors really come out, and they do in this movie. It's surprising to me that I've not seen more use of this (I'm sure there are dream movies out there that have - I'm just undereducated here). Metaphor can be a powerful devices in film, so the connection seems a natural one.

I do think there are moments where they went too far with effects, having sequences that, while having an immediate purpose, like giving us a visual transition from reality to the dream world, did not seem to reflect anything either real (as in, really happening or perceived by anyone), or revealing anything about the story. It's only a small amount of showing off compared to other films, but it still annoyed me.

Also, the way they resolve the central storyline of saving the last victim struck me as off somehow. I'm undecided whether the key moment there was a bad decision or not - I was left with the thought that they didn't really have to get into his mind to solve it, but really, clues for solving crimes do not necessarily lead in a straight line, so I want to forgive that decision. Yet, somehow the film fails to justify itself. The events of the plot are beside the point, provided the film makes a case that there's a point in telling us the story. Somehow, The Cell doesn't quite make that connection in the end.

Still, the individual moments are compelling, and it's a fun, at times creepy if not terribly scary , film.

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