'The Mountain' film review: Goldblum transfixes in a pensive, cold lobotomy drama
The anti-lobotomy arthouse drama "The Mountain" (now playing in select cities) is strongest when it takes in the medieval psychiatric procedure and its staunch evangelist - but quickly loses its focus when it explores other themes and characters.
In short: Just after his mother is hospitalized, Andy (Tye Sheridan) goes to work with Wallace, a doctor (Jeff Goldblum) who specializes in lobotomies in the 1950s. Hannah Gross, Denis Lavant and Udo Kier also star.
Just to get an idea of the film's introspective pace, the film begins with a few lines of voice-over dialogue -- then waits until almost 10 minutes into the runtime before another meaningful bit of dialogue is uttered. But even without the crutch of expository filler, "The Mountain" makes clear how the extent of Andy's isolation and detachment. He longs to see his mother, his relationship with his father is distant and his interactions with people in general is sparse.
Sheridan's performance is the epitome of "show, don't tell." He's tasked with the tall order of creating character on a specific personal journey using as little dialogue as possible. With his lowered head and sunken shoulders, Andy is an unenthusiastic guest on Wallace's grim lobotomy road show. Despite his standoffish demeanor, Andy is the story's empathy. He is the only non-hospitalized character who shows any concern for the patients or what happens to them after the procedure.
"The Mountain" is a unequivocal condemnation of the barbaric practice of lobotomies and shock therapy, devoid of melodrama or carefully scripted soap box rants. It simply presents the procedures in a straightforward manner. Even when Wallace performs the lobotomy perfectly, its execution is cold yet primitive. Just the way he casually handles his instruments is less like a skilled surgeon and more like a mechanic. Goldblum’s performance is that of flawed, misguided hack who takes no glee or enjoyment from performing lobotomies. If anything, Wallace is a solemn, duty-bound visionary who actually believes he’s helping families and patients. This otherwise sterile and muted film is at its most engaging when Goldblum takes center stage.
An undercurrent of sexual longing permeates the film, underscoring Andy's desire for affection. Given the film's arthouse leanings, it should not be surprising that "The Mountain" features more full-frontal nudity that one might expect from a drama about primitive psychiatric practices. And despite clocking in under two hours, "The Mountain" still features plenty of dramatic pauses - moments that linger just a beat or two longer than necessary. The totality of all these small shots means the film is longer than it needs to be. The problem isn't that "The Mountain" is too quiet or too ponderous - but it's too comfortable in lingering in scenes that make their point ... and just continue longer than needed.
The audience is often held hostage by the passionate but momentum-stopping monologues of Jack, the father of one of Wallace's patients, whose small number of scenes - are generally just him screaming at other characters. The film slams to a screeching halt during his scenes, which often have the feel of a one-man play more than a dynamic character truly engaging with other characters.
"The Mountain" bobs without clear direction whenever Goldblum's character is out of frame. Although Wallace is a supporting character and the story follows Andy's trajectory, the film is rooted in its take on lobotomies and its practitioners. At least when Wallace is an integral part of the story, "The Mountain" has a thematic voice and thesis - when Wallace is set aside, the film immediately loses direction and clarity.
Final verdict: "The Mountain" is simply but confidently not for the casual movie watcher. It patiently unspools everything wrong with the practice of lobotomies, however, the film meanders and lists when it goes off topic.
"The Mountain" is now playing in select cities. This drama is unrated and has a running time of 106 minutes.