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"The Cell"

Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn, Vincent D'Onofrio, Marianne Jean-Baptise, Jake Weber

Directed by Tarsem Singh. Screenplay by Mark Protosevich. Produced by Mark Protosevich, Julie Caro and Stephen J. Ross. Cinematography by Paul Laufer, Editing by Robert Duffy and Paul Rubell, Music by Howard Shore, Production Design by Tom Foden. Art Direction by Guy Dyas and Michael Manson

A large contingent of production companies and special effects houses have combined their efforts to create one of the most visual films ever made. United States partners include New Line Cinema, Radical Media, Toybox, and BUF, Inc. As beautiful and breathtaking as The Cell is, it is also one of the most disturbing films made with its intertwining of sexuality, violence, torture and killing of women. Amazingly, it was able to pull of an R rating from the MPAA. It should be NC-17. Runtime is 107 minutes.

Reviewed by Occipital Cortex

Summary and Rating

This is quite a film. It is the one of the most stunning and beautiful films ever made. It exemplifies the pinnacle of art, creativity, technology, and imagination that can be achieved in cinema. Yet it is violent and offensive. Its view of women and how men see women in their subconscious is disturbing. If you do decide you want to see this movie, see it NOW. You won't see the same movie when it comes out on video. I predict at least five Academy Award nominations but it could lose because of politics and subject matter. I was impressed but I am giving it only three grins. Filmmakers are part of our society and therefore have responsibilities that go along with their rights.


There is a story to The Cell but at times, it gets a bit murky. A group of scientists has come up with an exciting invention. With it, one person can enter the mind of another. The practical application of such a device (in this movie) is for a psychiatrist, rather to learn about a patient by asking questions, actually take a trip into the patient's mind learning about and even possibly manipulating the patient's subconscious. It's not completely unethical. Both of Catharine Deane's (played by Jennifer Lopez) patients can't answer her questions because they can't talk. One is a young boy in a coma, the other, a serial killer who has lapsed into psychotic unconsciousness. Catharine hasn't had much luck with the boy but a critical problem drives her to take a journey into the mind of the killer. The killer, Carl Stargher (played by Vincent D'Onofrio) brutally murders beautiful young women by imprisoning them in a watertight cell where he tortures them and eventually drowns them by filling up the cell with water and filming them while they drown. When captured by the police Stargher falls into his coma but at the same time, the cops, led by Peter Novak (played by Vince Vaughn) find out that he has another victim in the cell with only 40 hours before the water is automatically turned on. It's the location of this cell that propels Catharine into Stargher's mind.


Vivid, powerful, menacing, and highly sexual. That's the dreamstate for males created by director Tarsem Singh in The Cell. This movie is like few other ever made. The only examples that approach it in the areas of production design, costume, sets and effects that I know of are Brazil and City of Lost Children but neither of them are as startling as the worlds created for this movie. I was absolutely blown away by the imagery, richness and contrasts of the scenes in this movie. One shot, of Catharine falling endlessly through a vast cathedral and then hovering just above ground, enveloped with yards of scarlet was breathtaking. I understand it took six months to compose and get this shot. Other incredible images. The evil side of Stargher, wearing a purple cape that covered the entire inside of his palace room descending on Catharine.
The vision that Novak has of Catharine chained to the bed and his subsequent impromptu intestinal operation performed by Stargher. The cherry trees in the desert against a robin's egg (and obviously digitally enhanced) sky or in Catharine's world of salvation. Sometimes it became too much. It was like the post-production wizards finally were given the ability to completely cut loose and it times they did. If you are an old Star Trek fan, the first film was completely ruined by endless effects and The Cell crossed over into special effects overload at times. But, my hat's off to the creators of this visual masterpiece. It truly is a work of art and could very well sweep the design and effects categories at next year's Oscars much as The Matrix did in 1999.

It may not however, and I am okay with that. Why? It's really time to curtail some of the excessive violence in movies, particularly against women. Yeah, I know that there are other films where I have done a positive review that have lots of killing. I admit it's not right but those movies don't indulge themselves in sick torture scenes. The central plot device of The Cell; filming drowning women is similar to using snuff films in 8 MM. It's just unacceptable. While watching The Cell, some of the recent calls by presidential candidates began to ring in my mind, and yes, their warning is fair and best be heeded by filmmakers and Hollywood. First, I don't support censorship, but I do hold directors responsible for their actions. Edward Teller, the Father of the Hydrogen Bomb holds himself out as an innocent scientist. "It wasn't me; I just invented it." But what he invented was the most deadly world-destroying device. Surely he could have spent his time and energies being more creative and the world would be a better place for it. Obviously Tarsem Singh has creativity and a vivid imagination like few other filmmakers. His directorial debut didn't need to drown women in order tell a good story. One hopes that the wrong person doesn't see this movie and get ideas. Art imitates life but we know that life will imitate art.

Second, once again, I have a beef with my favorite punching bag, the MPAA Rating Board. Obviously, this self-imposed entity which has the job of "watching out for our viewing safety" ain't working. Al Gore wouldn't be highlighting the violence in movies as part of his presidential campaign the industry was able to effectively police itself. Amazingly this film got an R rating. Why? What about the graphic depictions of Stargher's victims screaming as the water fills in the cell? I once again am amazed that the rating board freaks over a naked human, even more so if its two naked humans showing love to each other but doesn't have too much of a problem with sick graphic violence. Guys, if you want the government to come in and control your industry, just keep it up.

It's really too bad. I loved the beauty of The Cell. Its imagery and music were the best this year. But I was turned off by its graphic violence. It's an impressive work but the core of the apple is rotten.

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