Published May 1, 2000
Passion of Mind is the first film in English of Alain Berliner, the director of the charmingly disturbing or, disturbingly charming, Belgian film Ma Vie en Rose. Perhaps it was decided that for his American debut he needed to find his audience with the help of a star of the stature of Demi Moore. Similar thinking must have lain behind the casting of Miss Moore’s ex-husband, Bruce Willis, in The Fifth Element by another hot young European director, the Frenchman Luc Besson. In both cases it was a bad idea, but Miss Moore’s seeming inability to forget for a single moment of this performance that she is a superstar and by rights the center of attention makes Passion of Mind the worse of the two movies.
To some extent this is an accident of the script. We would not mind the star’s star- consciousness quite so much if the film itself did not make her, in addition to the beautiful and devastatingly attractive cynosure that she would have been in any case, a kind of superwoman. For she is given here the power that we know no woman—or man either—in the real world has ever been given, namely the power to live two lives. As in Me Myself I a few weeks ago, a merely idle and speculative fancy about what one’s life might have been had this or that been done differently is here elevated to a seemingly serious possibility. Miss Moore as a widow with young children living in France falls asleep every night and dreams that she is a high-powered career woman, unmarried and childless, living in New York—and, as her New York self, she dreams that she is the French widow. She has no way of knowing which is her “real” life and which is the dream.
That “life is but a dream” is one of those pseudo-profundities which render all comment— and, indeed, all common sense—superfluous. It ought to be reserved for the mockery it endures in “Row, row, row your boat.” In this movie the conceit is automatically assimilated (as it also was even in the noticeably better Me Myself I) by the now over-familiar feminist melodrama: career or family? Dear, dear, which should our heroine choose? Really, in the movies if not always in real life, this is an utterly fake dilemma, a pantomime of agonizing which is invariably followed by our gal’s getting to choose both. And so it proves here, although there is a somewhat incoherent attempt to offer a real-world explanation of the mystery in the dénouement. One of the two lives really does turn out to be a dream. Or a sort of hallucination anyway. But Miss Moore’s smugness in copping, as if by right of her superstardom, one perfect man and perfect life by shedding herself of the illusion of the other makes it difficult for us to care very much.
Both of Demi’s dream men—Stellan Skarsgard and William Fichtner—are good actors, but both are given such sappy lines to say by Ron Bass and David Field’s script (perhaps influenced by a bit of tinkering by the star or her agent) that any hopes for the emergence of anything looking remotely like reality must be swiftly abandoned. Nor are the heroine’s two shrinks, one in Manhattan and one in France (played by Peter Riegert and Joss Ackland respectively) given anything much better to say. “You are riding two horses, and the mind was not built to do that without breaking apart,” says one in all seriousness. Romantic bachelor number one stuns Demi by saying: “Always do what you wish you could.”
“Is that the secret of happiness?” she asks.
“No, it’s just what’s right.”
Romantic bachelor number two is less the philosopher than the psychoanalyst (he’s an accountant by profession): “I’m not the kind of guy you’re attracted to,” he tells Demi with an easy authority— “handsome but a little dangerous…someone you can control only by leaving, which is the safest control of all.” Of course, such penetration makes him instantly the kind of guy she is attracted to. This, like much of the rest of the film, is romance-novel twaddle and should be avoided by anyone with anything better to do.