Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Sigmund Freud’s description of the id as “a cauldron full of seething excitations” could just as easily apply to 2000’s The Cell — a literal exploration into the darkest, filthiest corners of a serial killer’s mind.
Shaking up the plot by considering its villain’s mental motivation, Mark Protosevich’s script blended Fantastic Voyage, Altered States and The Silence of the Lambs.
When Carl Stargher (Vincent D’Onofrio) suffers a permanent brain injury, it seems his last victim — not yet dead — won’t be found in time. Enter Catherine (Jennifer Lopez), a psychologist able to experimentally enter Carl’s mind — along with FBI agent Novak (Vince Vaughn) — and coax clues to find her. (For an idea of the acting risks Lopez and Vaughn once took before resorting to calculated image building, look no further than The Cell.)
Within Stargher’s mental flotsam and jetsam — where he’s fashioned himself both a helpless child and a violent, horned king — director Tarsem Singh created disquieting tableaus (such as a vivisected horse) while Howard Shore’s score clattered like Stargher’s cacophonous thoughts.
The Cell also bravely works out Stargher’s equation of sadism with his salvation. He sees a seizure suffered during a baptism as giving him proximity to God. Stargher’s father uses religion as a crutch for the cruelty he shows his child. And, in Stargher’s mind, the Stations of the Cross morph into pictures of pain.
Stylish, but not for style’s sake, The Cell took religious iconography to chilling, thought-provoking places that allowed us to mourn the makeup of its murderer.