Read Jennifer's fascinating new review, "Ah, what a celestial voice! That is really for praying". Click here to read it.
Photo courtesy of Karina
In eighteenth-century Vienna, Franz Anton Mesmer was enthusiastically propounding a controversial treatment called animal magnetism for patients considered mad or emotionally unstable. Unfortunately he had yet to achieve any lasting successful results using this treatment. This is a problem for both Mesmer the man and "Mesmer" the movie.
Mesmer's point is that the body cannot be treated independently of the emotions; that there is a connection - a life force - that runs through everything in the world and this life force cannot be ignored. He attempts to treat patients by sticking iron rods in the ground to absorb magnetism from the earth, encouraging them to will themselves back to health and he also runs his hands over their bodies, especially their breasts. Since two of his patients are nubile young women, this treatment is shown over and over.
Even for a viewer with no medical or historical background, it's not hard to see what Mesmer is really doing with his patients as opposed to what he thinks he's doing. He's treating abused people with the first hint of kindness they've ever received in their lives and they are responding to it with eagerness to do whatever he wants of them. He offers hormonal young women who have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of close relatives a soothing sensual pleasure through touch all in the name of medical treatment. Imagine the choice: Alan Rickman stroking your breasts or a medical doctor opening a vein to bleed you. Which would you pick?
Probably the best thing I can say about Rickman's performance is that he actually makes you believe that Mesmer only wants to heal the girls and not just have his jollies with them, that he truly believes in his theory and feels that it is the only thing that can help them, and that he is convincingly opposed to the thoughtless cruelty of the medical profession. Unfortunately, what Rickman cannot do is make you believe that Mesmer is an attractive or sympathetic character. And this is where the movie stumbles early on and never recovers.
Mesmer treats his patients with the same clinical care that a scientist would show his lab rats: a negative quality of not harming them beyond what is necessary to effect the cure he's searching for. He is willing to see everyone from the nobility to the peasantry but he is quick to discard them when they fail to get better. His treatment and rejection of a group of poor lunatics who invade his home is typical as is his sulky dismissal of them when they remain afflicted - after only one treatment.
Has anyone else noticed how misogynistic this movie is? All the women are either shrews (Frau Mesmer), frigid wives (Maria Theresa's mother, whose husband blames her coldness for his actions with their daughter and who seems to validate the accusation by fleeing), hypochondriacs (the women of Paris) or passive, inarticulate victims (Francesca and Maria Theresa, although Amanda Ooms rises above the role and gives an excellent performance with absolutely no help from the script).
"You abandoned me" Maria Theresa tells Mesmer when she meets him again in Paris at the end of the film. And she's right but not in the way the script means. Mesmer abandons her when her sight comes back - no thanks to his treatment, by the way; she falls and hits her head - and she becomes the successfully treated patient who's going to validate his theory once and for all. As a reward he encourages her to believe she loves him - the same love that he rejects when it is offered by Francesca, the patient who does not respond to the treatment.
Rickman won a Best Actor award for this performance at the World Film Festival in Montreal. It must have been a lean year for the competition. He runs the full gamut of Rickman expressions with an unfortunate tendency to linger in The Profound Moment: he stares into the middle distance with saucer eyes, lets his lower jaw go slack and tilts his head to the side. This usually precedes a flashback of some kind. When he is stroking a patient, especially one of the girls, he throws his head back in orgasmic parody that suggests less a love scene than an episode of auto-eroticism.
As for The Great Kissing Scene In The Garden, I must admit that I didn't think it amounted to much, mainly because Rickman is so passive while Amanda Ooms energetically hoovers his lips. The scene at the beginning of the movie when he lays her on the piano in front of a crowd and calms her down, finally raising his head to stare blearily at the spectators with a post-coital gaze is much more sensual. It's impossible not to think Frau Mesmer is too far off the mark when she's suspicious of what he's doing with the girls.
It's a pity that when he finally got a lead role it was in such a flawed movie. There is no character development for Mesmer; he's as convinced of his treatment at the end of the film as he was at the beginning and still doesn't have a successful cure to show for it. (But he does somehow predict the outbreak of the French Revolution so that could count for something, I suppose.) He acquires no new knowledge of himself or his fellow beings, no added maturity as a result of his experiences and no successes either professionally or personally. It does not make for an emotionally satisfying movie.
But his hair looks good and he does wear his costumes very well.
Reviewed by Claire, 28 December 1997
Overall rating: 1 hand
Rickmaniac rating: 5 hands
Synopsis: Costume drama about Austrian physician Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815), a pioneer in the field of medical treatment using hypnosis.
This Dennis Potter scripted film is flawed, the story line is unbalanced, a complete lack of directorial influence is evident, and some of the scenes so bad as to be laughable. But I can forgive all these faults for what is the most tactile and erotic Alan Rickman performance to date.
Rickman is visually stunning, sensuous, hair flowing over his collar and, for those of us with an interest in such matters, a wonderful line in ruffle shirts and period costume. Unfortunately heís the only visually stunning part of the film as the camera work and editing are disappointing.
The story revolves round Mesmerís supposed cure of the blind Maria Theresa, well played by Amanda Ooms. Their scenes, intensely sexual, are the main focus of the film for any Rickmaniac, so much so that the hand rating goes off the end of the scale. A major highlight is the legendary kiss, ninety seconds alone worth the price of the video.
A note of caution: The film does have a darker side, including the molestation of two female characters Ė neither, I hasten to add, by Dr. Mesmer.
The sum of the parts does not add up to the whole, and Rickmaniac will eventually watch just the Rickman parts of this film.
Itís a must-see once, and repeat viewings with the use of the Fast-Forward button.
Captures courtesy of Stezi, Photo courtesy of Claire
During January 1999, Leatha sent in her observations on Mesmer. While this is not a review, it offers some insights that I find very valuable in examining the film:
Mesmer is just a beautifully made work. Mr. Rickman is wondrous, flabbergastingly great.
I suppose the people who ordered the movie for distribution, would be disappointed with it, because it is feminine in its appeal, perhaps because of the way it was written by Dennis Potter, a man who was dying, and the nurturing part of himself was coming forth. He (Dennis Potter) was seeing the end, and wanted statements about the human condition to come to light. When Mesmer describes himself as a boy, climbing up high to get away from the earth's pain and dirt, wanting humanity to be more caring and loving, Mr. Potter was going through those things himself . . . probably suffering chemotherapy or radiation treatments, suffering the indignity of a body which was rebelling against him. Mesmer became his retaliation for what he was going through, from the medical profession. He, more than likely, had gone to various new-age healers, doing the alternative medicine route. This movie captured that essence very well.
There is another thing which after watching it again, that I am drawn to. The fact the Mr. Rickman is so touched by the human condition of suffering, he tears up whenever he speaks of it in the film, great acting that, but perhaps it touches his heart as well......that human beings are so cruel to each other. Mesmer merely wanted to alleviate the suffering, and that comes through in the film -- it is perhaps the paramount point of the whole piece. Mesmer was sensitive to the elimination of the pain inflicted by physicians on patients, even to screaming when he saw them starting to be bled before there was a need.
I think that people who are under a physician's care, (especially with a terminal illness) often get lost in the conquering of their disease, the disease becomes the focus and not the individual, even today that is so. But now, with the new (old) touch therapy and other alternative medicines being introduced into hospital settings, the idea that a patient can be in control of what is done to his or her body, is vital.
This film is a focus of that, and Mr. Rickman's delicate portrayal keeps the spirit of it. His characterization comes across as really caring deeply for all of his patients, even the most superfluous ones.
Mesmer can be purchased in VHS format from Videoflicks, for $21.99 plus shipping (information correct as of 12 February, 1999).
An additional plus for me was that the character of Marie-Therese plays a small fragment of music composed by the real-life Marie-Therese Paradis, which is now credited at the end (something missing from the versions I had rented).
In all, the director's cut version does not add new scenes or behind-the-scenes information, but for those of us who were put off by a very poor copy, it is a superior movie from the prior version of Mesmer. comment by Fausta, 22 May 2000
Lloyd Rose, theater critic for The Washington Post, describes Mr. Rickman's performance Mesmer as A Star-Making Performance in an article in The Atlantic Monthly.
For further information on Dennis Potter, please visit Clenched Fists: The Dennis Potter Homepage.
Here's what the Encyclopaedia Brittanica has to say about Mesmer. The March, 1999 Smithsonian Magazine contains an article, Hypnotism: You Will Fell No Pain that features information on the real-life Mesmer. The following are from the article:
An imposing figure, Franz Anton Mesmer introduced "mesmerism" in the 1700's
Gathered around a large tub filled with magnetized water, iron filings and glass, Mermer's patients grasped rods, held hands and waited for healing to take effect