Top critical review
Really appalling treatment of mental health
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 23 February 2022
As a movie, K-PAX is best described as so-so. It stars Kevin Spacey, so it's a little hard to watch, and he spends most of the film with his familiar smug smile, which doesn't really help.
But the movie's treatment of mental health is just... Offensive.
In real life, people are institutionalised in a mental health hospital because they're either a danger to themselves, or a danger to others. Or they have such profound issues that they can't take care of themselves (e.g. profound autism).
And once institutionalised, the general idea is to make people well enough so they can rejoin society. This is, generally speaking, the purpose of a hospital. They aren't prisons.
People do not get institutionalised just because they have obsessive compulsive order, or germ phobia, or because they're delusional. To imply that's the case is offensive to those that live with these issues on a daily basis, yet live independent lives.
But that's the idea behind this movie. A man appears delusional but is harmless. So... We lock him up in a mental health ward.
And Jeff Bridges plays one of the least believable psychiatrists (psychologist?) in the history of cinema. He deceives patients by playing along with their delusions. He breaks patient confidentiality at the drop of a hat and discusses a patient with his family. He invites the patient to his home. I mean, come on. This man would be struck off instantly. And he must have one of the worst records in psychiatry because all he does is humour his patients.
I know, I know. This is a Hollywood movie. It's not real life. But the picture it paints of mental health conditions that are very common, and the treatment of mental health, is so utterly wrong that it shouldn't have got past script stage.
This is a film that wants to be Awakenings, with a little bit of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. But both those movies were grounded in reality. This is just fantasy – and that's being charitable.