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Occasionally like a miracle, mostly like a lecture
The visuals in Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian are almost, almost worth the price of admission. The opening scene of the film beautifully articulates setting and irony by showing the grassy plains of America while Native American flute music is played in the backdrop. It's a comforting, soft opening to a film that is erected predominately off of complex discussion and ideology.
The film stars Benicio Del Toro in a role he clearly embraced and enjoyed, playing Jimmy Picard, a Blackfoot Indian, who has returned from war with seriously debilitating symptoms, most specifically, a crippling headache. Jimmy is placed under the care of George Devereux (Mathieu Amalric), a real-life French doctor and anthropologist, who specializes in ethnology and psychoanalysis. The two meet together and form a quaint bond between their lengthy discussions about Native American history and culture, stemming from Devereux's desire to learn about the culture, as an anthropologist often does and Jimmy's checkered past, which involves troubled love and a teenage daughter that another man is raising.
With the right directorial methods and smooth, engaging writing, Jimmy P. could easily be a film that one can effortlessly sink into, investing in its characters and learning a thing or two about psychological methods. It just so happens that my semester of high school psychology delved into Freudian ideas and psychoanalysis quite extensively, both principles are based on three key ideas: the inner conscious and unconscious act as dueling forces in the mind, the discussion and population of defense mechanisms in order for people to cope or estrange themselves from their past, and the idea that dreaming means more than disjointed shows that play in your head while you sleep.
Making a film centered around often complex and occasionally droning material, especially when that film is about the founding days of a division in psychology, is unbelievably challenging, so based on that, it's surprising to say Jimmy P. succeeds as well as it does. French director and co-writer Arnaud Desplechin (who wrote the film with Julie Peyr and Kent Jones, respectively) does all he can to make the film as absorbing as possible, and for the first hour or so, his efforts are effective, as we watch Jimmy and Devereux invest in some great conversational banter that is geared more towards cultural relativism than it is in trying to structure cheap and expected payoffs. However, the film runs out of gas when you realize just how stiff and frequently dull the material gets. Perhaps it really is no fault of the trio of writers, nor Desplechin himself, but the fact that the ideas presented in the film are difficult to make engaging on an entertainment level.
Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian works for a little while because it's interesting to see how a significant subsector of psychology was born by a doctor who was clearly interested in learning about different walks of life and the makeup of cultures and people of groups he didn't belong to. Amalric embodies the mindset of an anthropologist/psychologist quite nicely here, effectively making for a character we can appreciate. However, the stiffness of the film catches up to it, with the film's discussions in its second and third act becoming greatly long-winded and the entire project slowly running out of steam before reaching the conclusion. Rather than rewarding and captivating, the ending comes off a long-awaited conclusion to a film that was so close to making a film about psychology absorbing for two hours.
Starring: Benicio Del Toro and Mathieu Amalric. Directed by: Arnaud Desplechin.
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