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Warner Home Video (DVD), ASIN B0001FR3IQ

This film attacks psychiatry in its jugular vein: the assumption that members of this profession master sanity along with their degrees. Dr. Miranda Grey (Halle Berry) questions medications -- but not diagnoses -- that bring screamers to their knees. Every word they speak reeks of X-rated pornography. For this well-heeled lady, patients exist only behind bars and three life-shaping taboos:

dvd: gothika 1. Do not countermand hospital administrators.
2. Do not suspect police officers of crime.
3. Do not question an adoring husband.

She survives listening to the nightmares of others only by following these strict self-imposed orders. Evil receives no acknowledgement in her world -- only illusions. The film's impact depends on us sharing her point of view. Her fantasy life ends the second her husband (Charles S. Dutton) turns up murdered. An immediate reversal follows, plunging her into the subconscious realm populated by gargoyles and ghouls.

Through her eyes, we first see this spouse encouraging her confidence. Seeming the soul of wisdom, he demonstrates how water runs down a mirror like tears. The doctor provides the reflecting surface; the insane add a distorted "image." "I can see both of you, so I'm God," he happily pontificates. Turning on her heel like a darling daughter, delighted to be relieved of needless worry, Miranda zips back to her job.

Gothika tells two tales simultaneously. The first offers the extreme form of the entrapped dependent woman. This narrative structure might be titled "Miranda Comes of Age." The second unravels a murder mystery based on the famous demand: "Physician, heal thyself." After the death of the man who frames her worldview, this woman swims through wreckage, blinder than any bat.

Through her eyes again, we encounter her most seriously deranged patient (Penelope Cruz), an apparent victim of Satanism. As an incarcerated suspect now, the good doctor naturally experiences loss of identity. In its place, only false accusations forge a lie with her at its center. The more closely she peers into the eyes of others, the more clearly she sees them peering back at a murderer.

Miranda quickly learns the truth of her patient's motto: "You can't trust someone who thinks you're crazy." So, in her new life, she distrusts the very man who previously provided comic relief. Robert Downey, Jr., excels at this role -- the very essence of high-strung intelligence. Halle Berry also deserves credit for spanning the gap between the professional and the commoner who share her wildly shifting circumstances.

This film flows in the wake of experiments charging beyond the limits of everyday reality. Its setting harks back to Marat/Sade (1967). As in that dramatization of madness, expect sudden violence and altered perceptions. Power means insanity here too, as it does in Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970). Gothika travels in the same company as The Hours (2003), reflecting a contemporary concern with the mentality of female victims.

Its gothic world fixes on a penitentiary where therapy functions as slavery. Those who feel exploited by medical practitioners will cheer on Halle Berry.

Meg Curtis

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