[Screen It]

(1999) (Demi Moore, William Fichtner) (PG-13)

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Drama: A woman who's leading a double existence through her real life and a vivid dream state that seems just as true, must figure out which of her two worlds is real before she loses everything in both.
Marie (DEMI MOORE) is an American literary critic living in southern France with her two daughters Jennifer (ELOISE EONNET) and Sarah (CHAYA CUENOT). A widow of two years, Marie confides in her best friend, Jessie (SINEAD CUSACK), and therapist, Dr. Langer (JOSS ACKLAND), that she has such vividly realistic dreams of living a separate life in New York that she can't differentiate reality from dream.

Marty (DEMI MOORE), her Manhattan-based doppelganger, has the same dilemma. A successful, but single and childless literary agent, Marty leads a happy life save for the knowledge that when she goes to bed in the Big Apple, she awakens the next morning in Province, a dilemma she also discusses with her New York therapist, Dr. Peters (PETER RIEGERT).

Although the dreams don't incapacitate the protagonist, when she's either Marie or Marty, to any great extent, they do have her wondering which world is real. Things then become more complicated when Marie meets William (STELLAN SKARSGÄRD), a novelist whose earlier work she savaged. Despite that, William and Marie's kids take an immediate liking to one another and he and Marie soon begin a romance.

Back in New York, Marty has started seeing Aaron (WILLIAM FICHTNER), a laidback accountant, and while initially reluctant, Marty eventually falls for him. As Marty repeatedly follows the pattern of falling asleep one night and waking up the next morning as Marie, and then her doing the reverse the next morning and night, and with both being conscious of the other's world and new romance, the confused woman must figure out what's real and not before she loses everything in both worlds.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
Everyone once in a while our pet cat will have dreams. It's easy to tell that by observing her twitching feet, whiskers and thrashing tail. What's not so easy is figuring out whether she's happily dreaming of chasing a mouse through a field of wild catnip or having a nightmare about visiting the vet or, worse yet, going out to visit her cat friends and suddenly realizing she's left all of her fur back home. We'll obviously never know, but the more interesting question is whether she knows she's dreaming when it occurs and/or is aware of the basic concept of such seemingly bizarre mental functioning.

Although humans are obviously aware of the fictitious nature of dreams, such nocturnal activity still often fools us as it occurs as well as occasionally for some time after we've awakened. Since such dreams are often so vivid and realistic, it's not uncommon for it to take a while for some people to convince themselves that such experiences weren't real.

Imagine, then, that your dreams were so realistic and pervasive that you couldn't distinguish between them and reality, although you were conscious of that dilemma. That's the intriguing premise of "Passion of Mind," the latest film from director Alain Berliner ("Ma vie en rose") who works from a screenplay by Ron Bass ("Snow Falling on Cedars," "Entrapment") and David Field ("Amazing Grace and Chuck").

Something of a romanticized episode of "The Twilight Zone," the film plays off (and with) the viewer's inquisitive nature about figuring out which world is the real one and which is merely the dream. Hints abound on both sides, and while the mystery mostly maintains one's interest throughout, this is another of those films where the execution isn't as ultimately successful as the initial concept.

It's also a classic example of the filmmakers directing and writing themselves into a corner where the eventual way out is sure to displease or prove unsatisfactory to some or many viewers. Whether the screenwriters let the plot and its subsequent ending develop on their own while writing it, or conceived of the ending first and then worked their way backwards to write the script is a moot point as the conclusion is the same either way.

Yet, one wishes that the film had a bit more of an edge to it, perhaps more in line with the spooky aura that occasionally arises from the proceedings. As it stands, and for the most part, the plot works, but a sharper and better developed script would have helped further differentiate this effort from coming off as nothing more than a highly polished, souped-up, made for TV movie.

It would have also helped the story and film during the many moments where it precariously teeters along the fine line of being an interesting "Twilight Zone" type drama and nothing but pure hokum. While the film can get away some irregularities and seemingly glaring problems since we know that at least half of the story is a dream where logic doesn't necessarily have to exist, some viewers are apt to experience near uncontrollable fits of eye-rolling or chuckling as the events unfold. That's especially true during the concluding ten minutes or so, or if they figure out "the big twist" before the film unleashes it on everyone else.

Although it clearly isn't of the same "knock your socks off" variety as that found at the end of "The Sixth Sense," the "surprise" ending is similar enough to have viewers replaying the plot in their heads afterwards while trying to remember and see if all of the previously revealed clues made sense. Once all of the ramifications and implications are taken into account, such an ending certainly suggests some peculiar thoughts/desires on the part of the protagonist and is the stuff of which Freud would have had a field day.

While the film could have gone any number of ways with the whole dream world state, it does miss what could have been a fun development regarding the dream-based characters. Since they're aware that Marie/Marty's subconscious has created them or their counterparts, it would have been fun to see them realize that if she figures out which world is just a dream, those in it will be in mortal danger. That's because they'd come to the realization that they were not real and thus would no longer exist, adding a neat twist to the "I think, therefore I am" philosophy.

A few moments of that do exist when the various characters state that they're real and the protagonist mockingly replies, "That's what they all say," but the characters react more to losing her love than their existence. Of course, one could argue that that's asking too much of dream-based characters, but it would have added a fun element where they slyly or overtly try to convince her that their world is the real one.

Notwithstanding the "Twilight Zone" type material, some viewers may wonder how the film stands as a romantic drama since that's obviously more appealing to the picture's target audience, and makes up the bulk of what the film has to offer. Featuring dual romances, the film obviously hedges its bets by offering viewers the choice of rooting for one or the other to succeed.

With both featuring Demi Moore, who returns to the big screen after a several year absence following her work in "G.I. Jane" (she's also appeared in films as such as "Striptease" and "Ghost"), the viewer's opinion of which romance to champion will depend on whether they favor seeing Moore with Stellan Skarsgård ("Time Code," "Deep Blue Sea") in the Province-based story or William Fichtner ("Drowning Mona," "Go") who plays her Manhattan boyfriend.

The chemistry works equally well in both relationships and a great deal of that's due to the strong performances delivered by all three thespians. While their behavior (such as not running for the hills once Marie/Marty informs them of her unique "problem") and related dialogue may become a bit hokey at times, the "it could just be a dream" scenario gives them and the film some needed leeway with such moments.

Although some viewers might not see any problem in leading such a double life with which the protagonist is afflicted - after all, one is only a dream and no one is really getting hurt - the filmmakers obviously had to put an end to one of the lives. While that's all fine and good - not to mention necessary so that the rest of us can go on with our lives - Berliner and company don't know when to stop.

As such, once the truth is revealed, the film goes on for several more minutes as Moore's character closes out that dream chapter of her life. Handled correctly, such moments could have been heartfelt, but since the film dangerously and repeatedly dips its cinematic toes into Lake Hokum a few too many times, the drawn out ending may seem like adding insult to injury for those who don't buy into the proceedings.

Decent, featuring an intriguing premise and strong performances from its leads, "Passion of Mind" is certain to divide audiences and critics. Some will fall under its bewitching spell of watching a woman face dual romances, while others will either mock or outright hate most everything that occurs, especially as the story continues to unfold. I find myself leaning a bit more toward the former, but can certainly see why others might have such an adverse reaction. With a stronger script and better conclusion, the film would have earned a higher rating, but as it stands, it gets just a 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed May 17, 2000 / Posted May 26, 2000

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