Rarely is there a film outside the bombastic Hollywood Action /IMAX experience I feel a need to see in the cinema. After having seen the trailer some months ago, I was almost surprised to see “A Cure For Wellness” was getting a showing in the big Cinema here in Kuopio, as I was under the assumption that it may be too experimental for their regular programming. For many films I have interest in viewing, I do my best to avoid reviews, spoilers and sometimes even the trailer. My self imposed rule also applies to bands I am planning to see of which I have never previously heard of. The element of surprise conjoined with a fresh mind clear of any bias always makes for a lasting impression – whether positive or negative. This last Thursday I met up with the owner of Skullbanger Magazine to accompany him in the 2 hour and 30 minute evening screening after having spent a long day in town amidst heavy snowfall.
Far from straightedge, I had already imbibed a decent amount before showing up to get me in the mood for the full cinematic experience. Joking with my friend at the shop before entering “I think I might try and be healthy and just get a water for inside” - I ended up forgetting it in the restroom right before the film started and decided to just make due with the ¾ bottle of red wine in my bag. The foreshadowing on this was soon to be mirrored in the water drenched scenes which were to come.
Opening with some stoic steel and glass shots of corporate NYC skyscrapers, we were instantly pulled into this glossy world which was enhanced by the intense soundsystem with an esoteric reading of an even more esoteric wax sealed letter and a sudden death. A drained looking lead played by Dane DeHaan (Lockhart) finds himself in a predicament involving the elements of a corporate merger, a missing partner of the company named Pembroke, and the problematic situation of having been found out syphoning funds from the company. He is given one choice to rectify this situation, where we find ourselves quickly whisked off to Switzerland in extremely high resolution mirrored vision straight through what could be referencing the new Gotthardt Tunnel which opened in the Swiss Alps last year in the most bizarre of fan fare – stretching the imagination way past esotericism, leading directly to a grim celebration of death and Freemasonry. On his taxi up the mountain, we are enlightened by the driver who retells the dark fable of the history of the location Lockhart is soon to find himself having a hard time leaving.
Upon arriving at the Wellness/Treatment Center, we find it inhabited exclusively by the super rich and aged elite who all seem in very good spirits robe-clad in their mountain retreat. The juxtaposition of the young yet exhausted looking Lockhart contrasting to the rosy visage of the elder patients is further enhanced by the gorgeous colour correction and cinematography. While this review does not serve as a play by play of every twist and turn of the screenplay – if you have watched the trailer, you would already know that our lead Lockhart quickly finds himself unable to leave the Center as it is said “No one ever leaves here... Why would they?”
Historically, medical themed horrors are always an easy play into the human condition – starched nurses with stern faces taking orders from the usually always “reassuring” Doctors and “A Cure For Wellness” does not stray far from this blueprint. When Lockhart suddenly realizes he will have to convalesce within these historic halls which are built over a naturally occurring rejuvenating spring – he resigns himself to stay on plan with liberating Pembroke while doing his best to convince the staff that he is on board with their spring water based treatments. These treatments become increasingly more exacting and elaborate – where we find Lockhart now starting to experience hallucinations of seething eel like entities from miniscule to monstrous. Having lived in Switzerland for five years in the city and the surrounding hills of Basel, I was suddenly reminded of the numerous “cures” and spiritual treatments which are somewhat secretly guarded by the Nation. Many times have I frequented the famous “Thermalbad Rheinfelden” known for its curative salt water springs over a Roman settlement, almost always with my friend´s mother – and once again frequented by those in their later years. Featuring five different steam saunas, indoor and outdoor year round bathing and water based massage and special treatments, the revered spring water of Rheinfelden was little to no different than those featured in the film, with the exception of the rather horrific hallucinations, of course.
It is here where my review leaves the standard run down on the chain of action and reaction which you may be here to read. If you want to know every plot twist of the film, I suggest viewing it with a good sound system, decent screen and at this point you would do best to opt for a bottle of wine compared to a “healthy spring water”. As the film progresses, the darker under currents of immortality and the quest for it come to light. Many articles have been written about the mystic properties of water, as it is known for aeons to be a gateway for magickal rebirth – which is of course highlighted in Christianity with Holy Baptism. As Doctor Volmer played by Jason Isaacs is keen to point out rather early in the film, their cure works against sickness as is not found in the blood – but in the water of the body which makes up over half of the mass in adult humans. Through clearing, cleansing, and reinforcing the old waters of the body with the infamous Mountain spring water - the patients become vessels themselves for the inherent energies found in it.
Intimating the rather elusive concept of Baptism and rebirth – another deeper aspect known to few comes into play in my memories of the unspoken mysteries of Switzerland which are woven through the rather symbolic nightmarish screenplay of “A Cure For Wellness”. One movement also based in Switzerland (known internationally for their Waldorf Schools and their beauty products, Weleda) founded by Rudolf Steiner is the Anthroposophic movement. Rooted in the spirituality of Madame Helena Blavatsky´s Theosophic movement, Steiner took her philosophies one step further fusing her teachings with a rather right-hand path Luciferian approach which includes such dignitaries as Mephistopheles amongst their hierarchy of enlightenment. Funny enough the family of my friend in Switzerland lived a 5 minute walk from their headquarters, known as the Goetheanum. In 2000, I was privy to attend Beethoven´s 9th Symphony there on New Year´s day.
Although the products coming out of the Anthroposophic movement may be recognized worldwide for their “organic” - nature based qualities which is founded on their own method of “Biodynamic” farming – many unspoken mysteries are connected to this movement which are touched upon as we get deeper into the workings of the Treatment Center in the film. Even the “curative” tinctures which are prescribed by Anthroposophic doctors regularly in the form of ultra concentrated “homeopathic” drops is repeatedly enforced in the film.... giving Lockhart a clue as to who outside the clinic is involved in the cult when he spys a cobalt blue glass bottle in the corner of someone´s office, one just like the film´s Doctors are prone to sipping off of. The mystery of the how the concentrated drops are made comes towards the end of the film, drawing with it more horror and fantasy in some well executed scenes.
One rather guarded fable which many outside of Switzerland are not clued into, even though they may be familiar with Steiner and his teachings involves the reason as to why the Goetheanum is located where it is. The family I stayed with in Switzerland treated it all as second hand knowledge, always prescribing me some tinctures for sleeping or whatever my ailment was so naturally, it came as no surprise when the younger brother of the family related to me his trip with his Fraternity brothers to the rather secreted underground grotto in Arlesheim, known as the “Ermitage”. It is this infamous spring close to the headquarters which Steiner and friends believed to be the site of the Holy Grail. The Grail itself the most remarkable of mystic vessels – intimating immortal life and the high mysteries of the Nazarene in many tales is alluded to in the elite elders finding new life high up in the Swiss Alps.
As the film rolls on, we find a mash up of many historic symbols as well as references to well known films. From the thirst of Countess Bathory, to the water based life giving properties of “Cocoon”, to the wax sealed Occult letters of Polanski´s “Ninth Gate” and even the final orgy of “The Perfume” - “A Cure For Wellness” succeeds in crafting what may seem to be a rather exotic escapade into an elaborate fantasy world of the 1% and their never ending hunger for longevity – no matter the price. With the addition of the vestigial Virgin played by Mia Goth, the film culminates in a grand crescendo of perversity and heroics. Coming to the screening with a prior knowledge of the rather unknown history surrounding the esoteric side of Switzerland´s famed wellness “cures” should shine a light on how intelligently crafted this film is – in addition to the high quality locations, editing and postproduction. Just don´t forget to bring some wine to the table for this one!