Unforgettable performances from Hopkins and Pepper and all you need to know about catatonia.
Director: Stella Hopkins
Cast: Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs), Lisa Pepper (Slipstream)
Run Time: 1h 35m
By John DeSando
“Elyse! Are you aware that there may be something … (dramatic pause) wrong?” Dr. Lewis (Anthony Hopkins)
The titular Elyse (Lisa Pepper) has indeed something wrong: catatonia. Her state, as diagnosed by her psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis, involves strange behavior and unresponsiveness. Her remedy calls for electric shock therapy, which sends her into herself and requires long months of therapy.
And so it goes in the drama Elyse, a story much more than just about diagnosis and therapy. In its minimalist approach by writer/director Stella Hopkins (Anthony’s wife), relationships are the drama and maybe the cause for her mental illness. Her relationship with her husband Steve Bridges (Aaron Tucker) is remote and frosty, a combination of her neuroses and his interest elsewhere.
Elyse’s jealousy about their live-in governess, Carmen (Tara Arrovave), and Elyse’s combative relationship with her mother as well as her uneven attitude toward Steve’s co-workers, point to an unbalanced heroine not helped at all by her pod of people. The director gently and slowly lets the actors play their parts in Elyse’s undoing, including Elyse herself.
When Dr. Phillips is on camera, not enough for my taste, the film moves into a rich buffet of words and ideas, all minimalist but calling for more, so powerful is Hopkins in a role the opposite of Hannibal Lecter but strangely similar in the magnetic hold the actor has on his words. It’s not so much that Phillips sets things right; it’s that he sets in motion the thoughts and actions that seem right for the situation, relieving the audience’s tension as it worries about the heroine’s fate.
Adding to the cool tension are the contrasting black and white photography and a modern house whose glass and sharp corners reflect the loneliness and danger Elyse experiences. No matter what you think of the drama and dialogue, Elyse gives you an introduction to the malady of catatonia that you will never forget.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JohnDeSando62@gmail.com