K-PAX: Alien or Psychiatric Patient?
Is there any intelligent life other than us humans that could possibly exist in this universe? The film K-PAX directed by Iain Softley is based on a man named Prot who is a patient at a mental hospital who claims to be from K-PAX, a planet in a distant star system in the constellation Lyra. His psychiatrist tries to help him but soon starts to doubt himself. This movie was released in October (2001) with Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, and Mary McCormack as the main characters. Throughout the movie, Prot shows signs of both human and non-human characteristics. This indeed includes the difficult question about Prot as a character, is he mentally ill or is he an alien from another planet? The director’s characterization of Prot is very intense and complex, keeping you on the edge of your seat throughout the film.
Kevin Spacey’s portrayal of Prot, a man who claims to be from another planet, presents a diagnostic conundrum in K-PAX. After being taken to the Psychiatric Institute of Manhattan, Prot makes an astonishing impact on the mental health of the other patients, as well as his psychiatrist, Dr. Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges). Prot is a “convincing delusional” who happens to possess a superhuman knowledge of astronomy, that merely convinces Dr. Powell that Prot could be legitimate. Prot, who claims to have journeyed to Earth by means of “light-travel”, explains that he can take one person with him when he returns to K-PAX. The way Softley developed Prot as a character is outstanding. Prot is so perplexed that there is no telling if he’s human or not.
There are many instances which show Prot acting as if he is actually an inhabitant from another world. Prot demonstrates in his convincing speech that he has traveled to earth to observe its inhabitants. His ability in being able to see the ultra-violet light is indeed out of this world. He further claims that he comes from one of the planets in the star system named Lyra, and astonishes a group of astrophysicists by illustrating a whole new solar system in front of their eyes. This knowledge is clearly not possible for any ordinary human being to possess. Furthermore, his unique way of writing is also very puzzling and can, therefore, be interpreted as some sort of alien language. In addition, the way Prot interacts with others isn’t normal, he cannot understand basic English expressions. For example, there was an instance in the film where he talks and responds to a dog’s wishes. Further proof of him being an alien can be seen near the end of the film when he takes a patient with him back to his home planet K-PAX. Therefore, these scenes from the film show that Prot could quite possibly be an alien. The way how Softley adds these little hints throughout the film constantly makes you wonder.
In the film, the viewer learns through flashbacks that Prot is Robert Porter, a man that goes through a traumatic event that changes his way of life forever. After the accident, Robert believes he is an alien from a different planet and he goes by the name of Prot. This change of character may be caused by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which means Prot could just be a normal human being. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that can develop after a person is exposed to a traumatic experience. Symptoms of PTSD could include disturbing thoughts or feelings about the trauma, mental/physical distress, or, in Robert’s case, attempts to avoid thoughts or feelings of the trauma. Robert experienced trauma when he returns home to find his wife and daughter murdered and the killer still in the house. Prot/Porter re-experiences the trauma under hypnosis and displays significant physiological symptoms. When his psychiatrist, Dr. Powell forces him to recall the traumatic incident. Porter engaged in extensive avoidance and pain following the trauma denial. This whole other side to Prot is what makes this film so exciting. Prot has so many layers it keeps you second-guessing yourself.
To sum up, Softley’s film K-PAX is thrilling and insightful. The way Iain Softley constructed Prot was ingenious. He added intricate layers to Prots character that makes him witty and intelligent. No director could possibly pull of making a character so detailed. This must-see movie will almost always leave you with unanswered questions.