Movies Rich in Theme ~ K-Pax

Okay, got your popcorn? Today we’re going to look at the movie K-Pax–one of my favorites. Why do I love this movie so much? Because aside from the fact it tells a great story with heart and has a terrific  and creative plot, it has very rich themes that anchor this movie and make it so very special. Although the story seems to be about some guy who claims to come from a faraway planet, it is not a sci-fi flick (similar to Signs, which also is really not about aliens at all).

No, It’s Not about Aliens

If you haven’t seen K-Pax at least five times, you are really missing something. It is the consummate story of freedom from fear in all its aspects. Prot, from K-Pax, is truly messianic in the way he leads others to healing–not by a miraculous touch, though, but by showing each one their fear and the reality that they don’t need to be afraid. Howie, Ernie, Bess–all the characters on the nut ward–are terrified of something–of dying, of dirt, of smells, of being touched. And Prot gets them to understand why they are afraid and why they don’t need to be. The healing and wholeness follows.

In one place, Prot is explaining to the psychiatrist, Dr. Mark Powell, about his home world and how they don’t need jails and punishment, or laws to regulate behavior. Powell asks, “Well then, how does one know what is right and wrong on K-Pax?” Prot gives an astute answer: “Every being in the universe knows what’s right and wrong, Dr. Powell.” Powell: “What? No crime, brutality, no violence on K-Pax?” Prot answers, “You humans. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine how you’ve made it this far.”

It’s Not about Prot Either

What’s the theme in K-Pax? It’s not about whether Prot comes from another planet or not–that’s just the background of the real story. The protagonist of this film is Dr. Mark Powell, and his problem is his disconnect to his family. Throughout the movie, we witness the dynamics of his family–his alienation from his son, his distance from his wife, even his disconnect from his “family” of patients. As he uncovers the truth about Prot and the story behind Robert Porter and the horrific loss of family he underwent, we watch Mark come to the shocking realization that family is more precious than anything. He knows that Prot chose him, and wonders why. But we, the audience, know exactly why.

Dr. Powell undergoes a tremendous transformation, and we cheer him on. Of course, there are other beautiful themes in the movie. My heart aches just thinking about Bess and how Prot noticed this invisible woman in the nut ward. There is so much messianic theme in this movie in metaphor. Prot tells Ernie to watch for the bluebird of happiness–that is his task–which Dr. Powell scoffs at. Yet, the actual physical bluebird shows up outside the window. To Howie, this is all he needs. It may only be a bird to Dr. Powell, but to Howie it is a confirmation of his faith and a gift to his integrity. Big themes.

This week, watch K-Pax if you haven’t seen it, or if you want to watch it with new sight. Pay attention to the themes as they come out and see how they are presented in the dialog and actions of the characters. Just another side note here–notice how the director created another theme (more of a motif, but we’ll get into those in a later post) by the use of light. I would also consider it a theme as the metaphor of light (enlightenment, pureness, clarity, the light of truth being uncovered) works thematically on many level in this movie.  In almost every scene with Prot, there is some unusual treatment of light. This is because Prot claims to have come to earth on a beam of light. It’s a brilliant infusion of a secondary theme that adds richness to the movie. Think of some movies with great themes and let’s talk about them in the comments!

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  1. It’s great to know someone else appreciates this movie – I love it! Anyone I’ve mentioned it to tells me it’s a sad film and I can’t deny parts of it are – but it’s so full of hope.

  2. Sounds like a wonderful film…has it come out this year in the US, or is it playing now elsewhere…or available on DVD?

  3. This is a very good film but the books are far better, richer, more textured. For example, the psychiatrist in the books is called Gene Brewer – the author’s own name – not Mark Powell. The protagonist’s name, ‘prot’ is always written in lowercase to emphasise the insignificance of individuals in the cosmos – only celestial bodies deserve capital letters (hence the planet K-PAX is spelled in caps). I had a brief correspondence with Mr. Brewer a few years ago in which he mentioned that he also does not consider K-PAX to be science fiction (rather like Margaret Atwood has argued that The Handmaid’s Tale is not science fiction, I suppose). Nevertheless, I recommend the books to everybody.

  4. I love this film too! Even though I’m not usually a fan of these types of films, Kevin Spacey is just brilliant!

  5. I had watched K-PAX and remembered I thought it was interesting but a little disjointed. I just didn’t get it the first time. Five times, huh? After reading your blog, I checked out K-PAX from the library and watched it again. I don’t know if I understood the thematic elements as the author intended them to be interpreted, but this time I loved it! I do love movies or books with strong, well imagined themes. To me, K-PAX seemed like an allegorical tale of Jesus’s coming to earth as a man – from his claims being discounted because they were too out of the realm of the every-day, to his bearing the weight of human sin (the murder of his wife and daughter). If a viewer can watch K-PAX and be drawn to the possibility of life on a far away planet, he must also admit that Jesus Christ, who came from a far away place, could be more than a man – as, like Prot, he claimed.

  6. An amazing movie based upon a book by the same name. There are actually two sequels to the book. I’m not sure if they’re as good as KPAX as I haven’t read them. Kevin Spacey FTW!

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