I’m not familiar with any of Rick Alverson’s previous efforts, such as The Comedy and Entertainment. But if there’s something to be learned from The Mountain, in regards to Alverson’s directorial prowess, it’s that he’s polarizing and has a lot to say about a particular subject. He’s also unconventional and allows for interpretation on whatever he has crafted. Again, this is all coming from his latest film, and the only one of his I’ve seen.
The Mountain is certainly not going to be for everyone, but there is something about it that makes it feel like it’s going to be great. And, for the most part, it works quite well. But, by the end, it still left me uncertain as to how I’m supposed to feel about it.
The drab cinematography effectively captures the moody feeling of the film’s main character, Andy (Tye Sheridan), as he adapts to a new life after the passing of his father (Udo Kier) in 1950s America. Prior to his father’s passing, his mother has been taken away to a mental institution, and Andy, unfortunately, has never been able to contact her since then. As Andy is in the process of selling practically everything of his father’s, he comes across Dr. Wallace “Wally” Fiennes (Jeff Goldblum), a controversial lobotomist who also loves to party and seduce every beautiful woman he comes across. The two partner together and tour numerous asylums, documenting each procedure through the images Andy captures with his camera.
The two are on complete opposites of the spectrum, in terms of personality. Andy is more reserved and stares longingly at the figure skaters his dad coaches, or sometimes at nothing at all. In addition to being the introvert of the two, Andy is also at a loss in his place in the world. And while Alverson might seem like he’s uncertain where to take The Mountain, it also appears as if that was his intention, so he could mirror Andy’s feelings. It’s the most mature performance for Sheridan, and surely one to not be overlooked.
Wally, on the other hand, is the more free-spirited, loose-living of the two. And while there are moments in which Goldblum’s performance comes off as something we come to expect, his quirkiness has mostly been sidelined for something more dramatic. Sure, we can expect something like his Grandmaster performance in Thor: Ragnarok or as Ian Malcolm in the Jurassic Park franchise, but this is something completely different and something that would be more interesting to Goldblum take on.
Where The Mountain becomes just downright strange is when random yet mostly striking scenery graces the screen. Andy’s dad is memorialized by a figure-skating performance, in which the skaters circle around - fans in hand - a portrait of their late coach. There’s a portrait of a hermaphrodite next to images of bombshell girls of that time. The best, though, is when Denis Lavant - playing the father of one of the patients - goes on an alcohol-induced rant and gives the film a more energetic feel that is different from its somewhat dour approach.
The turning point for the film is when Andy finds himself connecting more with the patients about to receive Wally’s procedure. One, in particular, is Susan (Hannah Gross). In her, he sees something he’s never experienced. It’s a new feeling and opens the doors for decisions Andy chooses to make as the film reaches its conclusion.
It’s not that The Mountain becomes a completely different film by the end; it still keeps its weird, moody tone throughout. Lorenzo Hagerman’s cinematography is still stripped of any brightness but looks gorgeous. Robert Donne’s score is still minimal, but effective when put to use. The film's deadpan humor is apt for a movie that criticizes the way things were in this time period, and there’s this feeling that Alverson is enjoying himself while capturing certain scenes.
I can’t say The Mountain moved me as I had expected. But, once the credits rolled, I was left a little baffled by its oddness and also amazed by the fact that a film like this exists. It’s certainly different and certainly something I can’t stop thinking about. But it also has so much in it that I can’t quite say worked for me. The performances are terrific all around, and the look of it is magnificent. But some of the directions Alverson takes still have me wondering if the film truly works as a whole.
The Mountain opens this week in LA and NY. Jeff Goldblum and Rick Alverson will participate in a Q&A on Saturday, July 27th at Landmark's Nuart Theater following the 7:00pm show.