If there ever was an award for “Most WTF Movie of the Year,” then Rick Alverson’s “The Mountain” would surely be a contender.
Don’t get me wrong, this beautifully shot film—its majestic lighting feels almost ethereal—is an incredibly risky endeavor into the dark unknown of 1950s America. It means to shake you with its depiction of the pseudo-science industry back in the day, but ends up further isolating the viewer, as Alverson’s ambitions overreach, and the film becomes less interested in any kind of coherent semblance. I felt a similar way to Alverson’s last picture, “Entertainment.” In that movie, we followed a depressed stand-up comedian touring comedy clubs around the country. The narrative was morose and gave us a mundane look at a character nearing the fringes of society. Much like this latest film, it was fascinating, but to a point.
Tye Sheridan and Jeff Goldblum are the leads in “The Mountain,” a strange dive into baby-booming America and the world of lobotomy science during the ‘50s. Sheridan’s introverted Andy meets Goldblum’s Dr. Wallace when he institutionalizes his mother. Andy ends up working for Dr. Wallace, a lobotomist par-excellence, who really thinks that there is a future in science for the, even then, debunked medical practice. The journey is, unsurprisingly, a real downer, with both men touring together to promote the procedure. Not much happens except life itself, as Alverson’s stilted camera just observes.
The cinematography does remains astonishing throughout; the film was shot by DP Renan Ozturk in 1.33:1 aspect ratio, a boxy style that aims to give off a claustrophobic nature to the surroundings and is heavily inspired by Stanley Kubrick and Andrei Tarkovsky’s isolative brand of filmmaking. Alverson’s film turns out to be an austere, almost completely detached movie that couldn’t care less about audience expectation, to the point of near-obsession.
In its second hour, our narrowing patience for the film ends up being ill-rewarded — Alverson decides to go for the surreal and inexplainable, a crushingly bad decision for a film that had such precise and coherent vision of its mise-en-scene at the start. This includes a man in his underwear, shouting philosophical ramblings in French, a rather bogus direction for the movie to jump upon.
As one who bravely stayed until the very end of this film, I, no doubt, felt like I had experienced something unique, but incredibly unsatisfying: A film filled with impressive technical abilities, but lacking any kind of soul to fully make it a provocative statement worth remembering.