You won’t come back.
Capitalism has become pathological to the point where your work and the industry you work in doesn’t need to benefit society if it keeps your wallet full. It’s why the white working class is prone to vote against itself at elections under the false sense that they’re just one lucky break away from being a millionaire and thus shouldn’t shoot themselves in the foot now simply because they haven’t gotten there yet. It’s why the willfully oppressed can look upon someone gaming the tax system that conversely bleeds them dry and think, “Good for them. I’d do the same if it were me.” rather than want to plug the hole and live better lives today. People salivate about receiving scraps and thank the thieves supplying them for placation.
Now what about those thieves? Well, they delude themselves into believing that what they’re doing, while heinous, is okay because someone else would be doing it if they weren’t. Why then be the person getting robbed if you can be the one doing the robbing? Maybe they’ll even donate a fraction to charities and organizations they also own to funnel profits into systems they built to ultimately keep those profits coming. It’s a feedback loop of self-congratulation that cannot break without accepting one’s own guilt in the process. So, they fight to hide that guilt by committing more crimes. On and on it goes until the crimes become synonymous with good business acumen. To think otherwise labels you crazy. To recognize your own evil is to lose everything.
Thankfully, Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs) can help wealthy men and women during such crises of conscience. With the help of naturally healing water native to the land his Swiss Alps sanitarium sits upon, he can cure you of all your ailments for the right price. The question you must ask, however, is whether the treatments and therapy are doing the healing or if it’s just the escape from living and breathing the cutthroat capitalistic endeavors readying you to shove a knife into anyone’s back to acquire that fifth summer home abroad. Either way, his patients’ clarity has the potential to pose a threat to those laughing at their weakness and regret back home. Depending on their title, crucial decisions for progress grind to a halt in their absence.
That’s where Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) comes into director Gore Verbinski and writer Justin Haythe‘s A Cure for Wellness. Because he’s ambitious enough to seek power and crooked enough to have skeletons worthy of blackmail in his closet, he becomes the perfect candidate to fly to Volmer’s establishment and retrieve the elusive Pembroke (Harry Groener) whose cryptic letter full of accusation and self-immolation isn’t enough to render his signature unnecessary for a forthcoming merger or his presence unnecessary for saddling all the blame for the board’s indiscretions. If Lockhart can bring Pembroke back, the sky is the limit. If he can’t, well, he can be the fall guy instead. That’s all the incentive he needs to prove his strength and exit the shadow his father’s tragic suicide left behind.
The ways in which Verbinski and Haythe use this elaborate sanitarium to screw with a company thousands of miles away provides an intriguing bit of commentary. Add the villagers at the bottom of the mountain hating Volmer and his wealthy clientele and you’ve the makings of a revolt. Except that’s not actually the point of the film. Such things are alluded to throughout, but they’re all red herrings when compared with the mythology of the land on which the hospital sits. Because once we learn about a Baron’s desire for purity causing him to impregnate his sister before the town burned them and their castle to the ground two hundred years ago, the potential for supernatural elements becomes too juicy to ignore. Cue fate making Lockhart a prisoner.
Where then do delusions turn into conspiracy? How about truth into insanity? Did this place somehow will that deer into crashing the car Lockhart was riding in? Or was it merely a coincidence? What about Volmer’s amiable disposition to help him and send him on his way? How can such sentiments be believed when other residents begin to warn that no one ever leaves? It’s not paranoia if it’s true, but how can we trust Lockhart’s beliefs are true without proof from outside his perspective. Is he a false narrator of sorts who’s leading us to misinterpret what’s happening? Or is Volmer efficiently pulling the wool over both of our eyes? Maybe Victoria Watkins (Celia Imrie) will finally find the answer within her crossword puzzle collages.
Unfortunately for the film, Hannah (Mia Goth) shows up. She’s the only patient as young as Lockhart and her ignorance towards the world starts to feel like the evidence necessary to reveal Volmer as a jailer rather than healer. She’s also perfectly suited to fit the puzzle of this place’s history. While this causing me to figure out what was going on before I was halfway through the lengthy two-and-a-half-hour runtime doesn’t have to be a bad thing, it’s tough not to be when the filmmakers don’t have anything else going on underneath. Knowing Hannah’s truth could have been another red herring as the plot shifted back to capitalist commentary. That it ultimately proves the whole game with the latter never quite returning is thus disappointing.
Thankfully all is not lost, however. It can’t be when a film of this scale looks this good. The production design is immaculate and the cinematography unforgettable. I loved the mad scientist-esque laboratories and the specimen tanks of bodies. The eel motif is effective, the dental scenes brutal, and the general air of unease difficult to shake. DeHaan, Isaacs, and Goth are all quite good with the brainwashed/zombified demeanor of patients and staff lending their contrasting lucidity additional impact (along with the townies’ palpable fear of overstepping their purpose to the greater good). It’s overlong, circuitous, and nowhere near as deep as it believes itself to be, but I cannot say I wasn’t invested. Just because I wanted more doesn’t mean what I got wasn’t enough.