"Adam Resurrected" should either have turned out to be a stunning success or a complete disaster; it is neither. The film, an adaptation of Yoram Kaniuk's 1968 novel tells a story of madness sprung from madness: a Holocaust survivor in an insane asylum. If the production wasn't handled with care and sincerity, a disaster would be the obvious outcome; fortunately, the project found it's way into the hands of Paul Schrader who employed the talents of Willem Dafoe and Derek Jacobi, to support the very curious casting choice of Jeff Goldblum. The odds going into the film were stacked on the side of an astounding production. However, as surprising as Goldblum's performance turned out to be, the final film was just as shocking.
When I think of raw emotion and pain brought on by the most horrific atrocity committed against man, I don't think of Jeff Goldblum. Mr. Goldblum is a consistently entertaining fellow, but thoughts of his performances tend to conjure up images of dryly humorous, kooky characters. His attachment to the protagonist of the film, Adam Stein is quite possibly kismet; while Adam Stein is a man who has suffered the worst of the Holocaust, Adam Stein was and is a charming, devilishly humorous, enigma. His introduction in the film sets the very unconventional tone the film follows to its very obtuse finale.
After having nearly choked a female acquaintance, Stein is returned to a psychiatric facility, deep in the desert, specifically founded for the treatment of Holocaust survivors. On paper, the man in charge is Dr. Nathan Gross (Jacobi), but from the moment he walks through the door, Stein is quite obviously the real shepherd, tending to a flock of emotionally fractured individuals. His fellow patients look at him with awe, trusting them with their money (Stein makes them a lot of money in stocks) and problems. Even Gina Grey (Ayelet Zurer), the head nurse, is quickly revealed to be subject to any of Stein's whims, despite the serious breach of ethics involved in their relationship. If this entire arrangement doesn't come off as odd already, by the end of the first act, Stein has turned a therapy session with Gross into one of his many performance pieces by reading Gross' mind, seconds before nearly dying by his own will.
Adam's seemingly supernatural powers, which are revealed to be no hoax as displayed in numerous flashbacks to his days running a circus in the days before WWII, end up being the first loose thread that threatens to completely unravel this original tale. Adam's story is told both in the present and through flashbacks leading up to his eventual imprisonment in a concentration camp, where he is "saved" from certain death by the camp's overseer, Klein (Willem Dafoe, in a small, but very much appreciated performance).
While in the present, Stein appears to have met his match with a curious addition to the asylum, a young boy who believes he is a dog. Stein takes it upon himself (or so he thinks) to teach this boy to once again become human. The catch is Adam himself may not fully understand what that is, as he was forced to, quite literally, be the dog of Klein during his years of incarceration. It is at this point that the genius of Goldblum's performance shines. No longer, is he able to get by with his "magic" tricks, wowing the other patients and staff; he is reminded of the horror he endured and for the first time the real Adam Stein is thrown back into reality. One scene in particular stands out, showing just how much Goldblum "got" the role. Following his seduction of Gina Grey, in order to gain access to the boy's "cell," Stein throws a mocking "seig heil" salute to Grey, which she catches from the corner of her eye. Goldblum's face turns from a mocking grin to icy intensity, while his physical status breaks into a snide soft-shoe impersonation. It's a scene that speaks volumes of Stein's nature; Grey knows she really has no control over him and Stein knows his days of charming may be coming to an end.
The final two acts of the film, while tolerably, are ultimately unsatisfying. We learn more of Stein's time with Klein through scattered flashbacks, which also bring up the mystery of what happened to Stein's family. Meanwhile, in the present, Stein is trying to save the fragile boy, while struggling to keep his own emotional damage hidden from view. As Stein begins to unravel mentally and physically, so does the film. There are numerous places where important plot points seem to have been lost in translation from book to film, and as a result, the simplest of events seem like they need a greater suspension of disbelief than Adam's supernatural powers.
Paul Schrader does a very admirable job of keeping the film together, but he seems to have made the grave mistake of shouldering Goldblum with the entire burden of keeping audiences engaged. As I stated previously, the scenes with Dafoe are greatly appreciated, but the supporting cast largely feels like an afterthought. No one comes close to holding his or her own alongside Goldblum and it undermines a great theme of the film. These poor souls were imprisoned once, only to be liberated and ultimately be imprisoned again. The design of the psychiatric facility reflects this, most prominently in the design of the fence and sandy nothingness outside the confines of it, harkening back to the barren wilderness outside the barbed wire fences of the death camps.
In the end, "Adam Resurrected" winds up being an ambitious stumble for Schrader. Unfortunately, the role of Jeff Goldblum's life is likely going to be viewed merely as a footnote. Goldblum should have been nominated for an Oscar here, but in all likelihood, the final act of the film kept him held back. Goldblum fires on all cylinders up to the final frame, but the resolution while I applaud for not being watered down, remains too obtuse to digest and will be viewed by casual viewers as pretentious. It is still a film worth seeing once, if one does not mind being left with many unanswered questions.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer reproduces the seemingly dreamlike nature of Adam's scenes in the asylum, with the right color balance; however, at times the picture looks a bit too soft. There is a noticeable amount of edge enhancement however, but no other glaring technical defects pop up.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 English audio track is quite strong for a dialogue driven, character study. It shows the most life (and quite appropriately) during the flashback scenes to Adam's days as an entertainer, as well as the madness of the concentration camp under the eye of Klein. Most importantly, dialogue is clear, which is vital given the accents associated with the performances. Spanish and English subtitles are included, as well as English subtitles for the hearing impaired.
The bonus features on "Adam Resurrected" are sparse in quantity but rich in quality. First and foremost is a feature-length commentary by Paul Schrader. It's great to hear Schrader on his own, talking very open and honestly about the film. There is no denying his heart was in the making of the film and he is still enthusiastic when it comes to discussing the work he put into it.
A short "Behind the Scenes" featurette is your standard talking head, promotional piece. Like the commentary track, it gives you a solid feel that the movie was made with great intentions.
The "Haifa International Film Festival Q&A" was the biggest surprise; running well over an hour, it gathers Schrader, producer Ehud Bleiberg, and the novel's author Yoram Kaniuk, for a candid discussion about the film's production and original source material. At no point, did any of the three men try and hog the spotlight from one another, and the result offers even more insight at how the novel differs from the final film. It cleared up a few questions I had and confirmed my initial suspicions, that the film was an ambitious project that lost a lot in translation. The runtime did feel a bit tiring, especially given the thick accent of the author, which gets lost under some bad audio.
Rounding out the extras are a few deleted scenes, largely focusing on the final act. On one hand, they would have made the ending easier to swallow, but on the other hand, cheapen the final product. Last but not least is the film's trailer.
"Adam Resurrected" is nowhere near the level of other Holocaust films, despite it's unconventional look at the impact the event had on its victims. It is by and large, a character study, handled fantastically by Goldblum. It's not a love it or hate it film, either; it's one of the few films where viewers will be left feeling their time was wasted, or merely appreciating the efforts of a talented actor and director, that could have benefited with a meatier script and supporting cast. The extras however, are a very nice treat and for fans of Schrader, a purchase wouldn't hurt. For everyone else though, Rent It.