ⓘ The Cell

The Cell

ⓘ The Cell

The Cell is a 2000 American science fiction crime horror film directed by Tarsem Singh in his directorial debut, and starring Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn, and Vincent DOnofrio.

The film received mixed reviews upon its release, with critics praising its visuals, direction, make-up, costumes and DOnofrios performance, while criticizing its Silence of the Lambs -inspired plot, an emphasis on style rather than substance, and masochistic imagery. The film was a box office success, grossing over $104 million against a $33 million budget.


1. Plot

Child psychologist Catherine Deane Jennifer Lopez is hired to conduct an experimental virtual reality treatment for coma patients: a "Neurological Cartography and Synaptic Transfer System" device managed by doctors Henry West and Miriam Kent Dylan Baker and Marianne Jean-Baptiste that allows her to enter a comatose mind and attempt to coax them into consciousness. The technology is funded by the parents of her patient, Edward Baines Colton James, a young boy left comatose by a viral infection that causes an unusual form of schizophrenia. Despite Deanes lack of progress, West and Kent reject Deanes suggestion to reverse the feed to bring Baines into her mind, fearing the consequences of him experiencing an unfamiliar world.

Serial killer Carl Rudolph Stargher Vincent DOnofrio traps his victims in a cell in the form of a glass enclosure that slowly fills with water by means of an automatic timer, then uses a hoist in his basement to suspend himself above their bodies while watching the recorded video of their deaths. He succumbs to the same schizophrenic illness and falls into a coma just as the FBI identifies him, leaving them without any leads as to the location of his latest victim, Julia Hickson Tara Subkoff. After learning of this experimental technology, Agent Peter Novak Vince Vaughn persuades Deane to enter Starghers mind and discover Hicksons location.

Deane enters the dark dreamscape of Starghers twisted psyche, filled with doll-like replicas of his victims. Starghers innocent side manifests as Young Stargher Jake Thomas and leads Deane through his memories of abuse he suffered at the hands of his sadistic father. Deane nurtures Young Stargher in hopes of getting Hicksons location but she is thwarted by another manifestation: King Stargher, a demonic idealization of his murderous side that dominates the dreamscape. King Stargher torments Deane until she forgets the world is not real. Dr. West discovers this while monitoring Deanes vitals. He warns that what happens to Deane while she is integrated into Starghers mindscape will inflict neurological damage on her real body. Novak volunteers to enter Starghers mind to make Deane remember herself.

Inside Starghers mind, Novak is captured and subjected to King Starghers torture while Deane looks on as Starghers servant. Novak reminds Deane of a painful memory to reawaken her awareness that she is in Starghers mind. Deane breaks free of Starghers hold and stabs King Stargher to free Novak. During their escape, Novak sees a version of the glass enclosure with the same insignia as the hoist in Starghers basement. Novaks team discovers that after the hoists previous owner went bankrupt, the government hired Stargher to seal up his property. Novak races to the property and finds Hickson treading water in the enclosure and breathing through a pipe. Novak breaks the glass wall and rescues Hickson.

Deane, now sympathetic to Young Stargher, locks her colleagues out and reverses the feed of the device to pull Starghers mind into her own. She presents a comforting paradise to Young Stargher but he knows it is only a temporary reprieve from King Stargher. He shifts to Adult Stargher to relate a childhood story of when he drowned an injured bird as a mercy killing to prevent its torture at his fathers hands. King Stargher intrudes as a scaly snake-man but this time, Deane is in control and she beats him to a bloody pulp before impaling him with a sword. However, Young Stargher exhibits the same injuries as King Stargher, and killing either manifestation kills Stargher. Adult Stargher reminds her of the story of the bird and implores her to "save" him. Deane carries Young Stargher into a pool, putting him out of his misery as Stargher dies in the real world.

In the aftermath, Deane and Novak meet outside of Starghers house. The FBI has officially excluded the mind technology from their inquiry and Deane has gotten approval to use the reverse feed on Edward Baines. The final scene is of Baines walking to embrace Deane inside the paradise of Deanes mindscape.


2. Production

Director Tarsem Singh asked Tara Subkoff, during her interview, if she could swim, to which she responded that she could and that she had been a lifeguard. It turned out that she could not go underwater without holding her nose. Singh would have switched her role with Catherine Sutherland, but it was too late and there was not enough money or time to re-shoot.

The scene where the Special Agents are trying to convince Dr. Catherine Deane to enter the killers mind was recorded at the Barcelona Pavilion in Barcelona, Spain.


2.1. Production Artistic influences

Some of the scenes in The Cell are inspired by works of art. A scene in which a horse is split into sections by falling glass panels was inspired by the works of British artist Damien Hirst. The film also includes scenes based on the work of other late 20th century artists, including Odd Nerdrum, H. R. Giger and the Brothers Quay. Tarsem - who began his career directing music videos such as En Vogues "Hold On" and R.E.M.s "Losing My Religion" - drew upon such imagery for Starghers dream sequences. In particular, he was influenced by videos directed by Mark Romanek, such as "Closer" and "The Perfect Drug" by Nine Inch Nails, "Bedtime Story" by Madonna, and the many videos that Floria Sigismondi directed for Marilyn Manson. During a scene, Jennifer Lopez falls asleep watching a film; the film is Fantastic Planet.

In the scene where Catherine talks with Carl while he is "cleaning" his first victim, the scenery resembles the music video "Losing My Religion" by R.E.M. The scene where Peter Novak first enters the mind of Carl Stargher, and is confronted by three women with open mouths to the sky is based on the painting Dawn by Norwegian painter Odd Nerdrum. The scene when Catherine Deane is chasing Carl through a stone hallway, right before she enters the room with the horse, is based on a painting by H. R. Giger called "Schacht".

A psychiatrist entering the dreams of an insane patient in order to take control of the dreams and so to cure the patients mind this being a very risky attempt, because the insanity may prevail during such "neuro-participatory therapy" was described in the novella He Who Shapes 1965 by Roger Zelazny, but the film Dreamscape 1984, subsequently developed from Zelaznys basic idea, had a completely different plot.


3. Reception

Critical reaction to The Cell has been mixed, with a score of 45% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 148 reviews with the sites consensus reporting that The Cell offers disturbing, stunning eye candy, but its visual pleasures are no match for a confused storyline that undermines the movies inventive aesthetic."

One of the most positive reviews came from Roger Ebert, who awarded the film four stars out of four, writing: "For all of its visual pyrotechnics, its also a story where we care about the characters; theres a lot at stake at the end, and were involved. I know people who hate it, finding it pretentious or unrestrained; I think its one of the best films of the year." Ebert later placed the film on his list of "The Best 10 Movies of 2000", writing: "Tarsem, the director, is a visual virtuoso who juggles his storylines effortlessly; its dazzling, the way he blends so many notes, styles and genres into a film so original." James Berardinelli gave the film three stars out of four, writing: The Cell becomes the first serial killer feature in a long time to take the genre in a new direction. Not only does it defy formulaic expectations, but it challenges the viewer to think and consider the horrors that can turn an ordinary child into an inhuman monster. There are no easy answers, and The Cell doesnt pretend to offer any. Instead, Singh presents audiences with the opportunity to go on a harrowing journey. For those who are up to the challenge, its worth spending time in The Cell." Peter Travers from Rolling Stone wrote that "Tarsem uses the dramatically shallow plot to create a dream world densely packed with images of beauty and terror that cling to the memory even if you dont want them to."

Conversely, Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post called it "contrived", "arbitrary", and "overdrawn". Slate s David Edelstein panned the film as well, writing: "When I go to a serial-killer flick, I dont want to see the serial killer or even his inner child coddled and empathized with and forgiven. I want to see him shot, stabbed, impaled, eviscerated, and finally engulfed - shrieking - in flames. The Cell serves up some of the most gruesomely misogynistic imagery in years, then ends with a bid for understanding." Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader remarked, "Theres almost no plot here and even less character - just a lot of pretexts for S&M imagery, Catholic decor, gobs of gore, and the usual designer schizophrenia." Empire Magazine gave the film two stars out of five, stating that "at times beautiful and always disturbing, this is strangely devoid of meaning."

The film received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Makeup.


4. Sequel

A sequel was released direct to DVD on June 16, 2009. The story centers on The Cusp, a serial killer who murders his victims, and then brings them back to life, over and over again until they beg to die. Maya Tessie Santiago is a psychic investigator and surviving victim of The Cusp, whose abilities developed after spending a year in a coma. Maya must use her powers to travel into the mind of the killer unprotected, in order to save his latest victim.

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