Three Christs, 2020.
Directed by Jon Avnet.
Starring Walton Goggins, Peter Dinklage, Richard Gere, Julianna Margulies, Bradley Whitford, Charlotte Hope, Christina Scherer, Jane Alexander, Kathryn Leigh Scott, and Julian Acosta.
Three Christs follows Dr. Alan Stone who is treating three paranoid schizophrenic patients at the Ypsilanti State Hospital in Michigan, each of whom believed they were Jesus Christ. What transpires is both comic and deeply moving.
For a film depicting the, during the late 1950s, radical schizophrenic treatment with heavy dosages of empathy, there’s not much to feel in Three Christs (even if the overbearing cliché original score and tantalizing talented cast do their best with the material given). More frustrating, perhaps, is how blatantly philosophical the story gets as Dr. Alan Stone (Richard Gere) begins to play God behind the scenes, manipulating various letters as a means to nudge the three titular nut cases that believe they are Jesus Christ on the path of sanity.
Peter Dinklage, Walton Goggins, and Bradley Whitford are all terrific character actors, so the novelty of them playing alongside one another as psychologically damaged patients under the impression that they are Jesus seems tailor-made for their skills. And to the film’s credit, the three individuals are given distinct personality traits not just in hobbies and tragic pasts, but right down to the interpretation of Christ they bring to the table. Goggins is more righteous, demanding, and confrontational (one of the best scenes in the movie sees him taunting Alan Stone’s assistant Becky as played by Charlotte Hope about lust and sexual impulses), whereas Dinklage is the antithesis to that. One of them says they are from Nazareth, the other corrects the statement and says no. Meanwhile, all of them get their own crazy rants and additional strange behavior.
There are also some glimpses into the family life of Alan which range from intriguing (mainly the way he uses psychological tactics as a way to empower his children against bullying) to downright pointless (there seem to be marital problems at home but it never amounts to anything). Nonetheless, it is slightly interesting seeing the good doctor utilizes studies on and off the field. The same applies to the dynamic between Alan and his newly appointed assistant as they unravel personal details about themselves.
The problem is that there’s actually no sense of progression within Three Christs. Technically, the patients are learning to communicate with one another and even hold group discussions together without lashing out at one another (a far cry from what happens the first time they are all put in the same room together, a notion that was considered groundbreaking therapy at the time), but it’s never really felt. The script from writer/director Jon Avnet (based on the book about the actual studies from Milton Rokeach and cowriter Eric Nazarian) treats everything at surface level value, telling the actors to go slightly overboard with the basketcase presentation in order to liven things up and provide some gateway into the emotional stakes. To some degree it works, as the loneliness of all three of these people is felt, but only so much considering the depressing histories are exposition dumps rather than actual enticing narrative mechanics.
Towards the back end of the film, Three Christs fully leans into melodrama with bad things happening as a result of Alan’s morally questionable tactics, and the filmmakers don’t miss a moment to crank up the sound of the music. That would be fine if it wasn’t so emotionally generic and bland. The worst part is none of that empathy or pain ever really translates to the screen; the film is missing some godly magic if you will. It’s a shame because the psychology and concept behind it all are fine, but the film just feels the need to beat the viewer over the head with messages and tragedy. If the film hasn’t already lost one by the ending, the final scene is sure to induce some cringe. Basically, Three Christs starts out decently and then has a fall from grace.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com