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K-Pax Musings

by members of Astraea

Jay begins:

Jay here, with my battered old fedora shoved back and a full cup of coffee in front of me, American Spirit cigarette smoldering in the ashtray, whamming this out on my old Olympia portable under the green-shaded lamp....

Got a letter from a friend last night all enthused over this K-PAX picture, the story about a homeless guy who claims to be an alien and does some unusual things by way of proving it, etc...

The story of K-Pax is based on "The Jet-Propelled Couch", a summary of which is found here:

Cautionary Tales: scroll down for "Jet-Propelled Couch"

[Gabriel says the novels Lindner's client identified with were not Burroughs' -- he was an American -- but prolific English adventure author H. Rider Haggard.]

My friend has excellent taste in movies, I trust his judgment, and he says K-PAX is well acted and the story, direction, music, cinematography, etc. were well done. There's just a few problems.

When we saw the promos we figured it for Hollywood's usual hatchet job on the original story, and then found out it was based on a NOVEL that was based on the original story... got a baaad feeling about this.

[Jay slips out of time and John slides into a big luxurious communications seat in front of the Registry console, all Classic Trek, smooth contours, pretty flashing lights and jazzy audio plug, lights a few joss sticks in the old incense burner, flips the radio station from RT-FM Big Band Swing (sorry Ella...) to KSOL and cranks up the volume on Counting Crows "Rain King" and continues...)


Gene Brewer's novel of course isn't meant to retell the facts, but what he did in the story, and this is in the film, the doctor can't figure out what to do with the maybe-alien client, so he has him diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder, the whole deal where he's buried unspeakable trauma and has to be hypnotized to remember... it's all up there on the screen.

In other words, the guy isn't an alien, he just can't cope with REALITY, he's one of those pathological traumatized ... Great.

Just great. That's a great public image. Spacey doing the helpless sobbing wreck thing on the floor as it turns out he's just really an ordinary human being who experienced something so horrible he's repressed it and replaced it with this fantasy that he's an ALIEN...

(Breathe, Johnny.)


Okay. We finally saw this in April of 2004, and it was not half as bad as we thought it would be. It really did have some thoughtful things to say about the concept of reality, and what "reality" means for each individual person. It really did, even in the film, manage to leave it ambiguous about whether prot is a walk-in using the body of a human named Bob Porter.

The story was much more about walk-ins than it was about "multiple personality disorder", except for the Vanessa character, who would have best been deleted from the final cut. I had a feeling she was put in there (she's not in the book) to illustrate "See? Prot does not have MPD. This inane babbling histrionic woman is what MPD is."

It was made very clear that prot had been around since Porter was a child. Whether he was an alien or "imaginary friend" (made up as self-consolation for the child because his father was dying) is left ambiguous also. You had to have the obligatory trauma scene, in this case something horrible that happened when Porter was an adult, and then prot took over. When prot leaves at the end of the story, the body is just sitting there -- either nobody is in it and it's vegetative, or Porter is there but unresponsive. What is really interesting is that prot said he could take one other person with him, and when prot has supposedly disappeared, the lady who wanted to go with him has also disappeared. Anyway. The story on film is not as far fetched as it sounds, considering the original case. The real story is that the client had been molested as a child, but had never forgotten it. The real doctor never treated him as a multiple. I think it would have been much better if they had done the real story, with its hints that high level physicists and other scientific types are really alien walk-ins, not to mention (one of my favorite) science fiction writers. But I guess they figure we're too illiterate to appreciate it. Also it doesn't have the dramatic effect. It would make it more low key like All the President's Men.

I am really sorry that both Brewer's novel and this film made the client out even temporarily to be multiple. Not because the public will believe multiples are really like that (they're more like to think that it's like Vanessa). But because by now, a lot of people do not believe there's such a thing any more. Thanks to the FMSF and all the scandals, all multiplicity is thought to be just a hoax, and you get talked into it by doctors -- just like the doctor initially tried to do with the client in the story.

We would like to know if anyone else on this list has seen K-Pax and what they think of it.


[Note: There is little evidence that the original K-Pax really was science fiction author Cordwainer Smith. Gabe likes to think he might have been, and just covered his tracks well.]

Click here for the Hondas' review
Also, Behind the Jet-Propelled Couch Was Cordwainer Smith really the Jet-Propelled Couch guy?
A psychologist investigates Cordwainer Smith

You can write to Pavilion at
pavilion@ karitas . net.
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