(This version of the story corrects spelling of Freeman in second paragraph)
By Robin Pomeroy
VENICE, Italy (Reuters) - Jeff Goldblum is charismatic as ever in “The Mountain”, where he plays a smooth-talking doctor with an effective way of rendering people with psychiatric problems “innocuous” - a term he uses as a euphemism for his devastating medical procedure.
Set in the 1950s, Goldblum’s Wallace Fiennes is based on real-life lobotomist Walter Freeman, an evangelist of the operation that consisted of hammering spikes into patients’ brains through their eye sockets to sever their prefrontal cortex.
Fiennes befriends Andy, a troubled young man played by “Ready Player One” star Tye Sheridan, who becomes his assistant and photographer as he travels from hospital to hospital. The doctor spends his free time drinking and womanizing.
“I’m drunken and picking up women for distraction - not necessarily for their wholesome benefit .. and it’s not so nice,” Goldblum told Reuters in an interview at the Venice Film Festival where the movie is in competition for the Golden Lion.
A far cry from the blockbuster “Jurassic Park” franchise, “The Mountain” is a slow-paced film that writer-director Rick Alverson made deliberately obtuse to force viewers to “wrestle” with to find its true meaning.
“It’s an anti-utopian film. It’s a consideration of the Western, and in this case particularly American, impulse to lunge unbridled into a future without consideration of the ramifications,” Alverson said.
Set in 1954, the movie is a meditation of the end of the all-powerful white male in America with relevance for the Trump era, he told Reuters.
“There’s a romanticizing the era of the 50s,” Alverson said. “The slogans of the ruling party in the States - the ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan – that America that they are trying to make great again was only great for a small ... segment of the population – white males ... (with) suppression of freedoms for much of the rest of the population.”
Goldblum, who called the film an “epic poem” and an x-ray into the American psyche, said the lobotomy procedure - which was eventually discredited - was a metaphor for toxic masculinity, as it was often used “on women who, during the 50s, were thought to be needed to be mollified”.
“It’s a mistaken and primitive way that hopefully we are correcting but, as we know, it still needs correction.”
Reporting by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Andrew Heavens