CAPSULE: SUBLIME (2007)

DIRECTED BY: Tony Krantz

FEATURING: Tom Cavanagh, Kathleen York, Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs

PLOT: The day after his 40th birthday, George Grieves enters Mt. Abaddon Hospital for a

Still from Sublime (2007)

routine colonoscopy.  Waking after the procedure it rapidly becomes apparent that something has gone seriously wrong.  George and his only ally, a nurse called Zoe, attempt to discover the truth in an increasingly nightmarish hospital of horrors.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  It really isn’t weird enough.  Certainly there are periods of scary oddness, but none that haven’t been depicted before in other, better films.  I hesitate to call the plot twist a “twist” as any regular weird film fan will see it coming over the hill a mile away, waving its hands to attract your attention (Zoe the stripper-gram nurse, I’m looking at you love!)  It has some serious and troubling points to make about fear, prejudice, white middle class guilt and health care systems in general, but it makes them in a long-winded, repetitive way.

COMMENTS: I practically leapt at the chance to review this film, having heard nothing about it, and being fond of “weird hospital” movies. About half way in I began to regret my decision, and this was the first film that I nearly pulled out of reviewing.  This is not because it’s a bad movie—though it is long-winded and really could have used the editor’s hand clipping away twenty minutes or so—but because the uncomfortable issues the movie raises hit close to home.

I’ve grown up in the occasionally stony but generally reliable bosom of the British National Health Service and felt I should perhaps have watched this with my wife who, as an American, has now experienced heath care on both sides of the Atlantic.  Procedures occurred in Sublime which seemed odd to me, even taking into account the national differences.  I mean, that was an awful lot of laxative!  Are American colons so different?

Protagonist George is an upper middle class, able-bodied (at least initially), straight, white male and his attitudes, prejudices and fears were in many respects different from mine.  But even if the specifics are different, fear, prejudice and guilt are common to everyone.  When push comes to shove the big fears gnaw at us all and courage isn’t being without fear, but facing up to it.

We are currently dealing with the terminal illness of a family member and therefore we’ve been talking about end of life fears and regrets to an unusual degree, and this film touched on a number of issues that are a part of our daily lives right now.  Perhaps I’m inclined to cut it some slack because of this.  After much reflection, though, I’ve come to the conclusion that Sublime is a flawed film which asks some important questions. It’s a film I think would benefit from being viewed with others, not because it’s scary or upsetting, but because it raises so many issues for debate.  The ending alone is open to a number of differing interpretations, not about George’s decision but rather why he makes it.

Sublime’s questions are important.  Can we take responsibility for the happiness of others; is it better to pull our prejudices out into the light and face them or push them down and pretend we don’t have them; when does life end and how should be approach it?  These are just some of the subjects the movie touches on, but subtlety is not Sublime’s strong point.  Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs delivers a powerful performance as the black bogey man tormenting the comatose George and eventually driving him to stare his fear in the face, but naming him “Mandingo”… really?  Zoe the nurse looks so much like a porn fantasy that she signals the twist even before it arrives.  If explanatory flashbacks are not your thing, then you’ll probably throw a shoe at the screen before the movie is half over.  And did I mention it’s long and sluggishly paced and its weird scenes owe visual debts to Jacob’s Ladder and Riget [The Kingdom]?

For all these flaws Sublime is worth watching, though probably not the night before you go in for a colonoscopy.  At the center of each of its huge, in your face, artificially shiny pearls is a gritty little nugget of truth.  Despite their best endeavors doctors and nurses do make mistakes and end up doing harm.  For many people the quality of health care they receive will not depend on their need but on their wealth.  However open minded and liberal we profess to be on the surface, deep inside many of us will harbor unwholesome preconceptions about other people.  For many folk their religious beliefs will conflict with their medical requirements.  We will think that we know what is best for those we love, even if we don’t.  At the end of the day there are some decisions that an individual must make for themselves.

I wasn’t expecting this film to make me think so much, not least because it has a terribly inappropriate DVD cover.  They are big questions with no easy answers and kudos to Sublime for asking them at all.  It’s still not weird enough, though.  Sorry.

On a lighter note: I was interested to see that American nurses also take the Nightingale Oath; it was nice to see an appearance by our old friend necrotizing fasciitis; and a sympathectomy isn’t what I hoped it was going to be at all.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…when you’ve got a guy named Mandingo running around with a pair of garden shears, you’re in a rare kind of movie.”–Christopher Null, AMC Filmcritic.com (DVD)

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