Logline: When a truly fucked-in-the-head serial killer falls into a coma, a psychotherapist working with the FBI must use a newfangled technology to venture into his dreams to discover the location of his final victim before it’s too late. Unfortunately, the inside of his brain looks likea really colorful Nine Inch Nails video, and it threatens to trap the psychotherapist once and for all.

This was intended to be a comparison to Inception, basically to explain a point I have with the film, and a problem I have with people’s critiques of the film. A major criticism is that Nolan simply isn’t dreaming big enough, that the dreams, especially in the central inception mission, are simply too real world-y and action movie-y to work, and that he should have really shot for the moon and really let his imagination run wild. And then I was going to tell you that while I had that note the first time around, when I saw it a second time I realized that this harsh adherence to reality is what makes the film work, as it allows us to easily relate it to our reality, and it increases the stakes considerably, and we get true visceral and emotional reactions. Because when you decide to dream bigger and stranger, you risk alienating the audience. If you do this well, then you’re David Lynch and it works, even if it tends to keep you at a distance.

On the other side is Tarsem’s The Cell, which shows how to completely lose yourself up your own ass if you dream too big. So for all of those who wished Inception could have been kookier, more abstract, stranger, I present to you The Cell. Does my shitty point come across?

Is It Better Or Worse Than I Remember?

Golden orb falls through the abyss, orb grows limbs, blood slow-motion-flows out in waves, the S&M alpaca bleats, the sky becomes sand, sand turns into flying buttresses, a row of tap dancers play lutes, they turn into large fishies, the lutes turn into bigger fishies, the little boy weeps soy sauce, tears hit the ground and become Cole Sprouse (but not Dylan), Cole Sprouse opens his mouth and out pours every single R.E.M. song all mashed together into five seconds, the movie ends, credits roll.

Do you get it now?

In the spirit of The Cell‘s “lack of narrative sense” or “reason to exist as a film,” my only option for this article is to rigidly lock it into my own narrative of watching the damn thing and writing down my thoughts. Why, that must mean it’s time for….

Freeeeeeeee-Floooooooating Thoooooooughts!

(Yeah, it’s kind of like live-tweeting, but without all that timestamp and structure crap. I actually do this with each of my re-views, but I usually take those and turn them into paragraphs and sections and crap like that. Clearly, doing so for The Cell is counterproductive.)

  • Opening of The Cell looks like a deleted scene from The Fall. Wait a minute. The Cell, The Fall, only two letters difference. Coincidence? Yes.
  • Tarsem: “Yeah, let’s just put this giant fucking wrecked boat out in the middle of the desert.”
  • Tarsem: “And, dude, when they sleep, they’re floating on wires, and they’re in these suits that looks like their muscles, but on the outside! Like licorice!”
  • Dylan Baker playing a scientist? Yep, he’s still creepy.
  • My wife, who decided to rewatch this with me, REALLY WANTED TO MAKE SURE I said that J-Lo sucked in this movie, and she still sucks.
  • Did screenwriter Mark Protosevich really write the torture scenes as pervy as Tarsem filmed it? He actually wrote, “the killer suspends himself from hooks, stretching his skin, masturbating on his former victim feet below to the sounds of his current victim drowning”? I’m not sure.
  • I have a weird feeling Tarsem just took the structure of the script and pretty much made up his own versions of the dreams.
  • From IMDB message board: “Why is a crazy killer dreaming/thinking up famous art pieces?” Why not? That’s your issue with the movie? That’s NOT AN ISSUE.
  • The late James Gammon? (Of course, he wasn’t “The late…” 10 years ago.) Odd choice. Then again, so is Vince Vaughn.
  • Did the main victim stop to think, “Uh…why is there a loose dog running around in a covered, underground garage?”
  • What a coincidence, that the villain goes into a coma, just as they’re about to capture him in real life. Why not have it actually involve the police invasion?
  • I remember quite liking the cop story, but, oddly, not the visually impressive J-Lo’s dream story. They’re about on equal ground in my mind this time around, which means I say “Meh” to both now.
  • From Wikipedia: Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader remarked, “There’s 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.”
  • The random visual flourishes bug me much less, now that I think I know more about the inside of Tarsem’s brain. It’s too much, and it doesn’t all quite connect, but I’m okay with that now.
  • “Yeah, they’re comforted by the feeling of weightlessness.” — J-Lo line reading fail.
  • D’Onofrio has been in a better alternate reality-themed movie, such as the terribly underseen genre mini-masterpiece “The 13th Floor” from 1999.
  • Thanks for the set-up that there are three suits, but only two are used during the first jump into Stargher’s mind. That won’t come into play later in the film, will it?
  • Oh no! Tumbling ladybug! Slow motion grasshopppppppperrrrrrrrrrr! (I mean, really, Protosevich, did you write that down? Did you actually write down “slow motion grasshopper”?)
  • Little kid Stargher looks more like co-star Jake Weber (Medium) than D’Onofrio.
  • Whaaaaaaaaat the fuck, Tarsem? Especially with the horseplay lady and the bodybuilder lady? Yet another situation of Did Protosevich Write This: “And amongst the room of former victims, a tanned musclewoman who looks like Goro from Mortal Kombat, but with gigantic fake plastic nipple-less boobs, steps out from her hole, thwacks Deane on the head, and picks her up Kong-style.”
  • The hiring of J-Lo tells me Tarsem was thinking like a fashion photographer, not a director.
  • Not sure that the is-she-dreaming fakeout was at all necessary during the second jump. It’s a fakeout designed only to be a fakeout.
  • Dog’s like, “What the hell? Who’s this floating bitch?” in the dream.
  • He’s evil because he was forced to wash dishes?
  • Couldn’t they have come up with something less obvious than “He’s evil because, as a child, his mother abandoned him and his dad abused him”?
  • Basically, this movie reminds me of how screwed up What Dreams May Come is. And how it’s a whole lot better despite its treacly nature.
  • For a minute, it seemed like Tinkerbell from Mary Martin’s Peter Pan was helping guide Novak through the dreamscape.
  • When Vince Vaughn walked onto these dream sets in the morning, what the hell went through his mind?
  • Did Tarsem tell D’Onofrio to frolic like that through the water, exactly like that, when he was playing the golden king-like character? It’s quite a choice.
  • Ah, so Deane’s dreamscape also looks like Tarsem designed it? Just the less sadomasochistic stuff?
  • Did Protosevich Write This? “And a giant, expensive, fashionable caterpillar starts climbing on little Carl, just chilling on his hand.”
  • Another round of Did Protosevich Write This? “And she takes the golden horn and rips out his nipples.”
  • Wait, do serpents all talk like they’ve been hit too hard on the head? I did not know that. Thank you, Tarsem.
  • Man, Deane’s mind is surprisingly boring.
  • From the Amazon review: “The Cell is too shallow to stay in your head for long, but while it’s there, it’s one hell of a show.” Fair enough.
  • Goggie wins.
  • From a visual effects special feature on the DVD: “CGI is like architecture; it looks like shit until it’s done.” I like that.