Xavier Dolan’s commendable turn onscreen cannot save this endangered film
After being captivated by the trailer for Charles Biname’s film Elephant Song, I took my pocket change, grabbed my popcorn and my Coca-Cola, and sat down in a seat at the AMC Forum to watch it. Let’s just say that I wish I had used my pocket change for something else.
When psychiatrist Dr. Lawrence (played by Colm Feore) disappears suddenly from the mental hospital where he works, Dr. Toby Green (Bruce Greenwood) is called upon to solve the mystery. Green believes his best chance to uncover Lawrence’s location is by interviewing one of his most challenging patients, Michael Aleen (the admirable Xavier Dolan), who claims to have privileged information on his whereabouts.
Green gets involved in Aleen’s manipulative mind games, and never seems to be able to catch up to his cunning intelligence.
There are many reasons why this movie looked interesting. For starters, the somewhat illustrious cast of Greenwood, Dolan, Feore, Catherine Keener, and Carrie-Anne Moss gave a lot of preliminary promise to the movie. Seeing Dolan play the role of a patient at a psychiatric hospital also looked intriguing, as I have always imagined him playing complex, albeit francophone, characters. Finally, the mind games between patient and physician were something to look forward to, as a psychiatric patient toying with others is always entertaining.
The only thing that really kept the movie going for me was how Aleen uses his interview with Green in order to explain how his parents raised him, culminating in the murder of his mother, a world-renowned opera singer who fails to take care of him while she tours internationally. When she has a concert in Africa, a young Aleen visits his father, who takes him with other mercenaries to kill an elephant in the wild. The mental trauma from seeing the elephant die in front of him shapes Aleen’s obsession with elephants, in addition to his mother teaching him the French “Elephant Song” to help calm him down.
However, the entire movie fell flat from my expectations. To begin, Greenwood plays the role of Green well, but his character really bothered me. He is a psychiatrist, and sadly I don’t think any psychiatrist would fall so easily for the games of a patient as Green falls for those of Aleen. Green shows intense emotion whenever Aleen mentions Nurse Peterson (Keener), who is Green’s ex-wife. It only gives Aleen another way to toy with Green. Even Green says, “I should have known what he was doing.” Dumbass. Go back and redo your degree.
The involvement of Green’s personal life has no impact whatsoever on the actual story, and the story could have played out without Moss’ character. Her role as a restless, callous housewife is pointless, but I guess putting known actors in a movie helps create popularity. The film, while dialogue heavy, treads along at a tedious pace and leaves many loose ends untied. Was there a mention of a dead daughter somewhere? Don’t bother fixating on it, since you never really find out what happened.
All in all, the movie is slow, and the drama could have been developed in a way that would keep viewers interested. The trailer gave an idea of a movie similar to The Silence of the Lambs, but it does not create that same kind of thrill. Dolan would never be able to surpass Anthony Hopkins as an insane Hannibal Lector, but I will give him credit for trying. Keep your money for something else kids—if anything wait until it goes on Netflix.