Judge Russell Engebretson briefly considered a career in outpatient lobotomies, but his plans were scuttled by the invention of Prozac.
"A Hole in One developed out of a performance piece I did based on the records of a WWII veteran who had a psychotic break"—Director Richard Ledes
Anna (Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain) is plunged into a dark well of melancholia when her beloved brother returns home from the Second World War an emotionally hollowed out simulacrum of his former self. She sinks further into depression after seeing her gangster boyfriend Billy (Meat Loaf Aday, Chasing Ghosts) murder a Greek restaurateur who had befriended her. In lieu of suicide, she decides that a transorbital lobotomy is just the ticket to a serene, untroubled lifestyle. Billy—psychotic but cannily savvy to psychiatric snake oil—instructs a handsome young underling to pose as a doctor and dissuade Anna from her reckless decision. Naturally, a whirlwind romance ensues.
The movie was shot in Halifax, Nova Scotia, primarily because a just-closed mental institution was available for shooting. Director Ledes said it was a perfect location, a "sort of poor man's studio," thanks to its pristine condition. It was also helpful that some formerly employed guards who knew the layout of the facilities were on hand to assist the film crew. The setting does lend an air of authenticity to the movie and reinforces the documentary tilt of the story.
The documentary aspect of the script focuses on the rise of the mental health profession (the National Institute of Mental Health was created in the 1940s) as a way to deal with psychologically traumatized World War II vets. It illustrates the manner in which radio and mass market magazines soft-pedaled the newly created, lucrative industry to American citizens. Grotesque procedures such as shock therapy and lobotomy were breathlessly praised as a panacea for a wide range of mental illnesses and obsessive behaviors (even alcoholism, as creepily depicted in the movie). Today's medication nation has probably played a role in eliminating the practice of lobotomizing the socially unfit.
Transorbital lobotomy, as opposed to the invasive procedure of bilateral lobotomy, only requires the careful jab of an ice pick along the side of each eye's orbit to damage the brain's frontal lobes. What sounds like an unlikely scenario drawn from the journals of the Marquis de Sade was a medical procedure used on many WWII shell-shock victims who were deemed incurable. One scene in the movie stages a graphic presentation of the procedure; viewers who are squeamish about sharp pointy things in the vicinity of their eyeballs should fast forward.
Unfortunately, the interesting premise of the script does not translate well to the silver screen. We end up with an unsatisfying stew of surrealism, spot-on 1940s costumes and sets, adequate but uninspired acting, and chunks of documentary style footage. These disparate elements never quite jell. It was a frustrating viewing experience because the movie contains good ideas, good actors, and meticulously constructed period sets, but the arty style undermines this tale of angst and medical chicanery. A straightforward telling of the story would have sufficed.
According to the DVD keepcase, the picture is a "4:3 Letterbox Presentation," which perhaps is a matte of the original full screen aspect ratio. On a projector screen it appears as non-anamorphic 1.78:1 with black bars top and bottom and black pillars at the sides. The inferior presentation is made even worse by an under lit picture that makes the movie appear drab and murky. The shadowy night and interior scenes, of which there were many, left me with a mild case of eyestrain. The audio was decent, the dialogue clear, and most of the sound issued from the front and center speakers.
The standout extra is the director's audio commentary. It's obvious that Richard Ledes did his homework for this period piece and researched deeply into the subject before committing his vision to film. In fact, I found the commentary much more intriguing than the movie itself, and it reinforced my feeling that the picture should have been a straight documentary. If you've read this far, you might find a single viewing worthwhile. Don't skip the commentary, as it is the highlight of the DVD.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Wellspring Media
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