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The Mountain

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
The Mountain Movie Poster Image
Mental illness, sexuality are focus of lobotomy drama.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 106 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

In the film, lobotomy serves as metaphor for commercial entertainment by dulling the mind and stopping active thinking. (In the 1950s, mental institutions performed rudimentary lobotomies as a method of treating -- or rather mistreating -- people with mental illness, particularly women.)

Positive Role Models & Representations

Psychiatric patients are shown as sympathetic, but there are no positive representations.

Violence

1950s lobotomy surgery is shown in a wide shot; it consists more or less of an icepick through the eye sockets. Close-ups of medical journal photographs show patients with the pick-type device protruding from their skull. Characters receive electroshock therapy. Patients kick and scream while orderlies force them into unwanted surgeries. A character smashes wooden chairs. 

Sex

Andy, who's unsure of his sexuality, is fixated on hermaphrodites, who are shown fully naked (breasts, penis, and pubic hair visible). A character has random sexual encounters as he travels from town to town. Another character has a closet covered in "nudie" photos. Women and men's genitals are exposed, sometimes in a sexual state. It's somewhat implied that attraction to the same gender would be considered a mental affliction, but elsewhere, a character makes an argument that gender is irrelevant to who we love or who we become.

Language

Repeated use of "f--k." Also "son of a bitch" and "Christ Almighty" as an exclamation.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Frequent drinking; two older characters are portrayed as drunks, and several scenes take place in a bar. Smoking (pipe and cigarettes) is constant.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Mountain is a disturbing coming-of-age drama starring Jeff Goldblum as a lobotomy surgeon; his character is based on the real-life Dr. Walter Freeman, but the movie's story is fictional. The film is provocative on all levels, intending to spark debate about mental illness, the psychiatric profession, art, sex (as both a gender and an act), and the tendency to look at the 1950s through rose-colored glasses. It may also cause queasiness: Surgery scenes are filmed from a distance, but the very idea of an icepick into the eye socket (which sums up '50s lobotomy procedure) is a horror. Characters also receive electroshock therapy, and patients fight against unwanted surgeries. Sexual content includes random hookups, inappropriate sexual behavior, and full-frontal nudity of men, women, and a hermaphrodite. Not surprisingly, given the 1954 setting, characters smoke and drink constantly. There's also regular use of "f--k" and other words. Tye Sheridan co-stars.

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What's the story?

In THE MOUNTAIN, Andy (Tye Sheridan) is a lonely introvert living with his ice-skater father in the 1950s. After his father passes away, Andy accepts a job photographing patients of Dr. Wallace Fiennes (Jeff Goldblum), the doctor who institutionalized and lobotomized his mother, as Fiennes promotes his controversial surgery. As Andy tours the country with the doctor, he feels a greater connection to his mother -- and a greater empathy for Fiennes' patients.

Is it any good?

Most teens won't enjoy this dreadful dirge, and they could well be aghast you even suggested it. Ready Player One's Tye Sheridan is drained of all spark playing Andy, a hunched-over, nonverbal, feet-shuffling sad sack who takes a job with the man who lobotomized his mother in an effort to find a connection to her. Is it depression? It's impossible to tell; his behavior is the same before his father's death. And the pace is excruciatingly slow: Director Rick Alvarez doesn't just give a scene room to breathe; scenes meditate in utter stillness until they induce sleep. The film finally comes to life with the introduction of belligerent Susan (Hannah Gross), whose French healer father, Jack (Udo Kier), requests that Fiennes perform a lobotomy on his daughter.

Jack has his own mental health issues, and it's hard to tell what's his personality, what's his artistry as a healer, and what's just him being an obnoxious, out-of-control drunk. What is easy to tell is that Jack is here to represent art(!) and says so(!). He indulges in a couple of subtitled soliloquies about the nature of art, hermaphrodites, and form, sometimes speaking in poetic verse. Some may appreciate The Mountain's high-mindedness and lofty goals, but for most -- especially teens -- it's more likely to play as ridiculous. The film is trying to disrupt viewers' senses by marrying a horror story with gorgeous cinematography. Even in grittier scenes, every shot is gorgeously composed. Clearly it's designed for active thought and debate, but with so much to unpack, it may have the opposite effect: making viewers feel they've been lobotomized themselves. Don't put it past Alvarez -- that may be the point.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Andy. Do you think he's depressed or dealing with grief? Do you think he feels empathy or compassion for the patients who are to be lobotomized? If so, why doesn't he intervene? Why do you think he volunteers for a lobotomy?

  • How do you think writer-director Rick Alvarez is trying to challenge viewers? Why do you think he contrasts a dark story with beautiful imagery? Why do you think he has called this an anti-utopian film?

  • Talk about the history of the lobotomy procedure and how people with mental illness, from schizophrenia to anxiety to depression, were treated historically. Why do you think the lobotomy was popular? Why is it important to reduce the stigma of mental illness?

  • How does the version of 1954 depicted in The Mountain compare to other movies and TV shows you've seen set in the '50s. Do you think that era is romanticized? Why or why not?

Movie details

For kids who love dramas about big issues

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