K-PAX: Probing Prot’s Psyche

“There is no witness so dreadful, no accuser so terrible as the conscience that dwells in the heart of every man.” ~ Polybius

Precisely 1,000 light years away in the Lyra constellation, in a completely different solar system from Earth, is an extraterrestrial planet called K-PAX.  Or so a patient by the name of Prot (rhymes with goat) tells us.  This film revolves around the story of a man claiming to be an alien life form known as a K-Paxian named Prot.  Prot is picked up in an airport terminal and admitted to the Manhattan Psychiatric Institute where his case is overseen by Dr. Mark Powell, the Chief of Clinical Psychiatry.  Through a series of clinical approaches, personal exchanges, and research, Dr. Powell seeks to understand what has led his patient to regress to a delusional psychotic state.  Or so he assumes.

To describe the particular facilities as they are presented within this film, the Manhattan Psychiatric Institute offers a state of the art facility.  It offers treatment and shelter to a variety of different patients.  The atmosphere is such that it offers an environment within which patients can not only function, but feel a sense of that they can improve their lives and the lives of others through interaction.  In essence, relating with others offers a window into which we can better understand ourselves and enhance our productivity.  While there exist this perpetual tension between balancing the needs of the various individuals with the shared needs of the group, and the larger external society as a whole, there is still an emphasis on the idea that an individual’s treatment depends upon his own uniquely individual situation.  Whether its medications, activities, talking, or hypnosis.  The courses of treatment that this institute offers emphasize not only medical but also moral treatment.  That is the idea that you stimulate mental health by stimulating the character of the individual.  They apparently have laboratories that are among the best equipped.  As well as special rooms for clinical sessions where the patients and their analysts can discuss their issues while being observed and monitored by physicians’ assistants.  All in all, a rather healthy place for both personal and scientific evaluation and enhancing understanding of the human condition.

What I find fascinating about this film is the way in which it seeks to explore the moral implications and consequences of the seeing behind the veil of the subconscious.  Recently, we discussed Freud’s view that the way to work through a traumatic experience and enable yourself to move forward is to face it and take ownership of it.  That way you own your experience and it doesn’t take control of your life.  Personally, it is my contention that when you experience something so horrible you can’t handle it your psyche in order to protect you, rather to preserve your sanity, insulates you from the trauma.  Some might ask, “What kind of logic is that?”  I would argue that it’s entirely logical.  When we experience, or perceive, a threat which is so overwhelming, devastating, that our psyche can’t handle it we simply concede that it just did not happen.  We just can’t believe that it is so.  The question then is who is the best person to judge what is right for you?  Is it better to remember consciously that one day you came home and found that your wife and daughter had been raped and murdered and then snapped the neck of the man who did it?  Or is it better to have a psychotic break and regress to a delusional state which permits you to function in a productive way?  Ultimately, who has the right to decide what is best for you when it comes to having to learn to live with something that others may be able to appreciate, but can never fully grasp when they have not lived that for themselves?  Something that cannot be explained but rather only experienced in order to be understood.  C.S. Lewis wrote, “Experience is a brutal teacher.  But you learn—my God, do you learn.”  But as Ernest Hemingway also said, “The world breaks everyone and in the end many are stronger in the broken places.”  While I don’t doubt the wisdom of either of these thoughts, I prefer to remind myself of the latter.  If you only focus on the former, you end up digging yourself ever deeper into a hole that you can’t climb out of.  And if you’re not careful you just may end up digging yourself six feet under.  Death is simple, life is not!

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