In February of 2017, a movie titled, A Cure for Wellness was released to theaters in the USA. I saw the trailer for this film during the Summer of 2016 and was immediately intrigued. The story follows a Wall Street stockbroker (played by Dane DeHaan) who travels to a remote location in the Swiss Alps to retrieve his company’s CEO (played by Harry Groener) from an idyllic but mysterious wellness center. The stockbroker soon suspects that the miraculous treatments are not what they seem. His sanity is being tested as he unravels the spa’s terrifying secrets and finds himself diagnosed with the same curious illness that keeps all of the guests there longing for a cure.
Whoa! That was one trippy trailer, right?! I know I’m not the only one thinking it. But seriously though. Here are my initial thoughts after viewing the trailer:
- What sickness is inside us? Is it in all of us?
- “Only when we know what ails us can we find a cure,” what does that mean?
- If there is no cure, how are patients able to accept their diagnosis to see, “it’s wonderful here”… Is the treatment they receive brainwashing them to believe that they are living in a utopia?
- “No one ever leaves,” why not?
- What was the microorganism on the stockbroker’s finger after he drank the water?
- Does the main character actually go insane? How?
I’m going to try to answer most, if not all, of these questions in today’s blog. However, I don’t want to give away too many details about the film because it was a great film and honestly, got underrated reviews and promotions. If you haven’t seen this film already, don’t take others people word for it. Everyone has different understanding of literary devices used in films, their own life experiences and perspective and we all just like different films. This movie is actually categorized as a horror but I personally felt that it was more of a drama or science fiction so it’s all subjective.
SPOILER ALERT!!! [descriptions & scenes from the film below]
First, we are introduced to Bill Morris, an account executive at this particular finance firm on Wall Street. In this opening scene, he is at the office organizing paperwork and answering emails for the CEO who is out of the country. As he’s working he begins to feel severe heartburn and grabs a cup of water from down the hallway. He appears to suffer from a heart attack and dies (to be later discussed). The next scene we find the stockbroker reading a letter written and signed by the CEO of the firm after receiving a grand promotion for closing an account with a hard to sell/buy client. He goes in to a board meeting and is accused of a crime and quickly realizes that someone is trying to set him up. He even says to his boss, “Well if it was me, you would’ve turned me in already. It seems like the board should be looking for someone with more seniority or even someone who is clearly unstable.” This brings about the conversation of the CEO overseas. The board directs him to follow their instructions to bring the CEO back in order to clear his own name.
So, the stockbroker goes to the Swiss Alps to retrieve the CEO. He takes a train to the nearest stop and gets in a taxi to go up the mountain. In the car ride he has a conversation with the driver about the differences between living a wealth life and living a simple life. Morris jokingly ask the driver about his level of ambition, “So you just take people up and down this mountain every day and that’s enough for you?” The driver’s response is, “Well not many people come down.” The stockbroker says, “Hmm, why is that?” The driver says, “I guess they must like it there.” This scene create the intrigue behind one of my initial questions: Why aren’t people leaving the facility at the top of the mountain? What makes them stay there? This scene acts as a foreshadowing. It lets us know that Mr. Morris, himself, will not be coming back down from the Alps.
In this same scene, we get a flashback to Morris and his mother discussing his business trip to the Swiss Alps as she’s painting a ballerina. The mother tells her son that he won’t be coming back. The expression on his face shows concern. Then, the mother takes the ballerina figurine and screws it on to the top of a music box. She says, “She lives in a dream.” The son says, “She’s dancing,” as the ballerina spins in a circle. The mother responds, “it’s because she doesn’t know she’s dreaming.” This is another moment where we get hints of foreshadowing. The ballerina is often used a symbol of good intentions wrapped in stability, critical steps and skills, and a stress-free life. However, the foreshadowing is used ironically to illustrate the opposite effect. The ballerina is a display of the hallucinations and sickness inside of us that we see later in the film. The ballerina is dancing because she is unaware that she’s dreaming. It is to say that we could be living life, doing whatever we want because we are unaware of the real problems lurking beneath the surface just waiting for the opportune moment to pop up and disturb our mental stability. The ballerina or dancing girl is used as a visual symbol throughout the film to show us how the patients are being brainwashed in to believing that they are living in a utopia that gives them the freedom (the cure) they need to have a happy, healthy life when the reality of it is actually the opposite. They are mentally unstable individuals.
THE CURE – Treatment?
If there is no cure, is there a treatment? Why do people stay in the Alps and not come down? What makes them so happy that they never leave to visit family or friends? As we see throughout the film, there are these microorganisms similar to leeches that live in water and are used to infect the bodies of otherwise healthy humans. The doctors at the facility at the top of the mountain use these microorganisms to “cure” their patients/visitors who are trapped into becoming patients. One of the more gruesome scenes in the film is of a doctor who straps Morris to an operating table and forces a tube down his throat. As Morris lies there making muffled screams, the doctor asks him, “do you know what the cure for human condition is?… Disease. Because only then if there hope for a cure.” The doctor flips a switch at the top of the tube releasing the leeches into Morris’ body.
Earlier in this blog, I mentioned the scene where Mr. Morris is at his office late and goes down the hallway to get a glass of water. He drinks the water, shows to have suffered from a heart attack and dies. This was actually a foreshadow to the drowning scene later in the film, where Mr. Morris is at the Swiss Alps facility undergoing unwarranted treatment. The doctors hook him up to an air pump/tube and submerge him in a tank of water with the leeches to obtain results on heart rate, breathing, etc. as a method of finding a cure. In this scene, Mr. Morris wakes up and is immediately panicked. He tries to swim to the top of the tank and his air tube gets stuck, pops off of his face and he begins gasping for air. He takes in too much water and dies, floating to the bottom of the tank in to the pit of leeches (who probably eat him).
So after all of this, we still haven’t answered the question… What is the cure? In review, we have elements of water which could represent the existence of life. For example, as humans we are submerged in embryonic fluid for 9 months, our bodies are made up of 80% water and we need to drink water in order to live. Those are all real-life factors that are used as imagery to create hallucinations and insanity in the film. The illness we experience is represented through the society we live in, through the way we choose to expose ourselves to the things we think we need and want in life. Through the intake of tainted, diseased water, we are infecting ourselves with a false sense of security and an inaccurate perception of reality. The more dirty water we ingest, the more infected and lost we become. The cure to wellness is to wake up from the dream that keeps us dancing without us knowing the truth, which is that the water is in fact dirty… the things we think we need in life, we don’t actually need and in order to survive, we need to take a step back and really take a look at the glass of water. It’s not about it being half full or half empty, it’s about the integrity of the water. Is the water even good for us to consume?
Thank you for reading this blog. I hope you enjoyed it. Feel free to email me with your questions or comment below. Make sure to see this film if you haven’t yet, I rate it: 4 out of 5 Stars!