There’s a tendency for most of us to bristle when films attack us with uncomfortable subject matter in a bracingly puzzling manner. I suspect that many will shun The Mountain for this very reason…if they even choose to watch it. Rick Alverson’s latest film refuses to coddle the audience in any way, shape, or form, preferring to stick to its own disturbing and oddly fascinating means of storytelling and thought provocation.
Though I still struggle with The Mountain, I do know this: I won’t soon forget it.
The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Rick Alverson
Written By: Rick Alverson, Colm O’Leary, and Dustin Guy Defa
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Jeff Goldblum, Denis Lavant, Hannah Gross, Annemarie Lawless, Eleonore Hendricks, and Udo Kier
Since his mother’s confinement to a mental institution, Andy (Sheridan) has lived a rather medial life, holding a mindless job in the shadow of his father (Kier). But once Dr. Wallace Fiennes (Goldblum) comes into the picture, Andy starts to work for Fiennes instead, acting as his photographer for his institution tour which advocates for the doctor’s lobotomy procedure which, as you might expect, has become quite controversial.
As Andy spends more time with Fiennes, watching both his life and his work, he begins to feel sympathy for the doctor’s patients, which comes to a head when a Californian healer (Lavant) requests a lobotomy for his daughter, Susan (Gross).
Meet Rick Alverson
Odds are you haven’t seen a Rick Alverson joint as of yet, but the Richmond, Virginia product has been slowly making inroads in the industry since The Builder in 2010. Each feature has acted as a building block, with incrementally more success and attention tied to each.
He’s even started to work with more prominent actors, as seen by his last film, Entertainment, which included notables such as John C. Reilly, Tye Sheridan, and Michael Cera. The Mountain continues that ascension as he had the opportunity to work with the great Jeff Goldblum as well as Tye Sheridan (again).
Expect Alverson to become an indie darling director in the coming years who is snatched up by someone like A24 or Neon to create another film. He’s already created a following with his bold, stark style, and it will only grow with time.
The Mountain is Incredibly Grim
I don’t know about you, but if a stoic, depressing film with de-saturated colors that centers on lobotomy in 1950’s America doesn’t get you excited, then I don’t know what will!
The Mountain is a tough sell from its premise alone. It carries itself with a certain sense of hopelessness that is ruthlessly punishing, and it never stops. I struggle to find any semblance of a silver lining here. And if you can believe it, that’s what I found so alluring in The Mountain. Watching a gangly Tye Sheridan mope around has an incredibly deflating impact to it, much like the rest of the film.
Other than feeling perplexed, I left my screening utterly miserable, mirroring the lack of humanity and self-worth that the lobotomized characters expressed. I often feel that many movies today are afraid of emitting such a feeling of complete despair in fear that many audiences will simply reject it. But The Mountain isn’t concerned with how it’s perceived, or if you refuse to engage with it. I admire such a bold take on gloomy subject matter. Think about it this way: would you expect a movie that is both about the literal and figurative lobotomization of characters to have a cheery tone? Didn’t think so.
Jeff Goldblum is Off His Rocker
We’ve had the privilege as consumers of seeing various films over time with Jeff Goldblum doing incredibly Jeff Goldblum-y things. He generally plays a version of himself in all of his roles, but we continue to love his stuttering ad-libs, or his lovable cockiness and nebbishness. He’s truly a singular personality, which makes his involvement in The Mountain even more fascinating. Goldblum is still a version of that persona that we love, but it’s filtered through a slightly masochistic and morbid lens. As a lobotomy doctor, he is actively campaigning for his practices while simultaneously performing them in grim detail. He’s completely detached from his sense of humanity in order for others to find their own false sense of humanity. Alverson never totally villainizes his character, either.
Instead, Dr. Fiennes is almost a revered figure, or at least someone who is respected by those around him. With the absence of an important male figure in Andy’s life, Fiennes becomes his bedrock, until Fiennes’ own life begins to crater.
The Mountain shows multiple lives coming apart simultaneously, in which each of their distinct lifestyles comes undone in one way or another. Goldblum’s Fiennes is arguably the most fatal blow, as his line of work (i.e. his way of life) is directly challenged; his wonderful performance accents a story of change in mental health and society as a whole.
Embrace the Impenetrable
I won’t lie to you: there’s a lot in The Mountain that is largely inaccessible. Although I appreciate the meticulous nature of the film — it’s obvious that Alverson had a strong grasp on every move — it is so impenetrable at times that it borders on becoming incomprehensible.(One scene involving Denis Lavant is exceptionally curious; it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen.)
If there was ever a movie that qualified as a tough sell, The Mountain would be it. The common response will be to reject everything that it offers because it is so depressing and so nonsensical at times. But I would encourage everything to keep an open mind. Alverson clearly has command over this movie, and everything is clearly a choice, not an accident. As much as it may be difficult to accept how The Mountain operates, it still has plenty to say about art, mental health, and our love for nostalgia and comfortable feelings. My hope is that we all do our best to understand The Mountain, not shove it aside for the next hollow blockbuster.
I’m glad that I gave myself some time to digest The Mountain before discussing it; there’s a lot to parse through, making an immediately reaction a tad silly. I immediately felt overwhelmed — probably as Alverson intended — but later continued to contemplate over what The Mountain postulated.
As a critic, I see so many films throughout the year that I instantly forget about most of them. I haven’t thought about Tomb Raider since March 16th, 2018, which is coincidentally the same day it came out in theaters. (Side note: I had to look through the site’s archives to remember that Tomb Raider does in fact exist.) But I can guarantee that The Mountain will have some sort of staying power in my brain, even with the faults I still find in it.
You’ll have a strong reaction to it either way, so why not take a chance and see if it’s positive?
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I’ve put this one on my must-watch list. (It’s my kind of movie, actually.)
Great! I guarantee you’ll remember it!!! 😁
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