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Movie Review

The Cell

MPAA Rating: R-Rating (MPAA) for bizarre violence and sexual images, nudity and language

Reviewed by: Carole McDonnell

Extremely Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
1 hr. 47 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
Vincent D’Onofrio in “The Cell”
Relevant Issues
Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Lopez in “The Cell”

Sin and the Bible

About murder in the Bible

Death in the Bible

Final judgment

Featuring: Jennifer Lopez
Vince Vaughn
Vincent D'Onofrio
Musetta Vander
Marianne Jean-Baptiste
Director: Tarsem Singh
Producer: Julio Caro
Eric McLeod
Distributor: New Line Cinema

“The Cell,” Jennifer Lopez’s summer-of-2000 release, is reminiscent of several other releases, yet it has a certain creepy uniqeness. Like “Altered States” of 1980, it ponders the world of coma victims. Like Hitchcock’s 1964 “Marnie”, the plot centers not around the crimes or the victims of the crime, but around the motivation of a criminal. And like “Silence of the Lambs”, it is eerily disturbing and just plain creepy. Don’t see this film alone, especially if you’re a woman and a mother.

A serial killer Carl Stargher, (played by Vincent D'Onofrio) is on the loose. He drowns and bleaches his victims in large vats of chlorinated water and dresses them up like dolls. A tortured soul, he also wants to get caught. FBI agent, Vince Vaughan is called into the case. The killer is found, but his latest victim is still out there… locked up in a cell, water frequently gushing into it. Enter Catherine Deane, played by Jennifer Lopez. She is a sensitive therapist who is able to enter into the quasi dream-state of comatose victims through modern cinematic medicine and, with insight, compassion, and love, bring about healing.

This film has received many bad reviews. Perhaps the reviews are a bit harsh. Don’t get me wrong: the reviewers are right about the gore and evil in the film. This movie was very stressful to watch, especially the scenes where the young child-serial-killer-to-be is abused by his father. Other strong content includes strong profanity, perversion of sexuality, and corpse nudity.

A scene that raised my eyebrows was Jennifer Lopez as the Virgin Mary. I like Jennifer Lopez. I like the Virgin Mary. It was just interesting seeing them blended together as one character. The therapist had concentrated on this image of love and goodness in order to combat the evil that was thwarting the serial killer’s. Another scene that raised my eyebrows and annoyed me somewhat is the baptism scene. The film states that this child’s schizophrenia became full-blown at the moment of his baptism. What, we ask ourselves, are we to make of that?

There is something else: there is the subtle loose end of the evil Molokai, a force that seems to be bothering another comatose victim in the film. Is this force the child’s own manifestation of evil? Or is the force external to the child, like a demon? Throughout the film, one gets the idea that some kind of superhuman supernatural entity is working through the serial killer. Things happen in the therapist’s sessions with the serial killer that never happened before. Is the force within the killer powerful enough to change the mode of therapy and to change worlds? The idea of some Other Evil Being isn’t fleshed out. Perhaps the screenwriters didn’t want to get into anything too supernatural, though there were moments where strange occultic symbols are seen on the therapist’s hands. But it does leave the viewer with the feeling that we’re only getting half the story.

One leaves the film not quite knowing what it says about the supernatural. But we do know what it says about serial killers: According to this film, they are people who are not lucky or strong enough to survive great abuse. They hurt as a means of gaining power and their power is their way of healing themselves and others. They really are killing their victims to either spare their victims or for sexual satisfaction. And serial killers generally had some past traumatic religious experience.

“The Cell” teaches that love is the way to heal these extremely wounded serial killers. The film is very compassionate towards people we consider evil (which is good). I believe in the power of love, but in the end of the movie, we see a dream-state mercy killing done by the Virgin Mary dream image in a baptism. (It was the only way for the victimized serial killer to escape his evil self.) Does love ever go this far? And is this sacrilege or not? The killer didn’t die to self or admit his sinfulness, just his weakness and his pain. And who would think the Virgin Mary would be used as a symbol of something the Catholic Church objects to?

Viewer Comments
This Movie was just flat out EVIL! Do not go see it!!! Waste of money and time. The film makes you sick to watch! Makes you wonder what kind of people think this evil stuff up, and makes you think lowly of the producers. My Ratings: [1/3]
Jacob Mayorga, age 19
This has to be one of the most disturbing films I have seen in my life, and this considering I am a recent Christian says a lot. It was painful to watch and left me feeling saddened that I had gone to see the film. This movie has red flags all throughout that should be a warning to Christians to STAY AWAY. I hope the lesson I learned by going to see this film will keep some of you from making the same mistake I did. This is the last thing you need to be putting in your mind if you want to be honoring God. My Ratings: [1/4]
Jeff, age 26
Don’t be fooled by the previews. The special effects and the costumes may look appealing to the eye and make you want to see this movie. Be forewarned: This movie is very graphic and disturbing. Images of evil are all over this movie. I am 18 and I have seen many movies like this, such as “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Seven”, and “The Watcher,” but this was very different and I was very uncomfortable while watching it. The plot was great, and whoever wrote this movie must be very intellegent! But, the first 30 minutes, at least, were the worst, because they showed what the killer did with the bodies of his victims. If you are going to see it, just be prepared to get shocked. Some of the scenes really push the limits of an R rating. As a matter of fact, I read in Entertainment Weekly that this movie was originally rated NC-17, until the MPAA made some cuts for an R rating. It is a good movie, but if you decide to go see it, just remember my review! My Ratings: [1/3½]
Adam R., age 18
I was in utter amazement from the very beginning by the scenery of “The Cell”. It is a knockout! I loved every part of this movie. It was mysterious and thought provoking. I think the acting was fantastic. I loved the costumes and the clicking of the camera. Another visual I loved was when you’re far far away and then the camera soars over all of this desert and comes upon Jennifer Lopez and then she looks up and sees a bird fly over her head. Wow! This movie was original and fantastic. The way Lopez cares for everyone including psychopaths. Her compassion and willingness to risk everything to save the needy and lost. And one of my favorite scenes was toward the end between Lopez and Vincent D'Onofrio where he talked as if he were a child. A scare little boy who wanted help. While there were some very disturbing images and some bad language, it is still a fantastic film. One of the years best. And the guy who portrayed the killers Dad was amazing. GreatMovie. My Ratings: [1½/4½]
Jason Eaken, age 17
To be honest, I saw the movie twice, with friends. Both times I watched it, it scared me. It bothered me! It’s not entertainment, it’s torture to your eyes! Don’t see it! Buy a book, go out with your kids for ice cream, go to Grandma’s. My Ratings: [1½/2]
Brian Bastos, age 23
This movie was based on portraying the illness of schizophrenia. Although it did touch on the reality of it… it didn’t do as good a job as it should have. The real schizophrenia is much worse than what was shown I believe. My mom has it… she has ad it since I was 8 and now I’m 19. 8 years living with her and I can tell that this movie is based on the stereotypes. Much of the facts about the disease are true… but it still adds a false image of it. Schizophrenia is a very sad disease and in most cases the most feared psychological disease also. I feel this movie made a mockery of it.
Joseph Clark, age 19
Save your money on this one! I can’t understand why some reviewers think great special effects can make up for an awful plot. This is a disgusting, violent movie. Sure the special effects are amazing, but I don’t need to see someone’s intestines ripped out or nude corpses. This is truly an awful movie-skip it! My Ratings: [1/1]
Sheri, age 48
“The Cell” is not a pretty film. It is neither pretty to look at, nor are the ideas presented. Admittedly, the plot, characterization, and script are passable at best, but sometimes a film needs to be looked at from a different perspective than whether or not it’s up for an Oscar nod, or perhaps its inclusion of violence or nudity. Yes, “The Cell” does have many scenes of violence (often times gratutitous) and some scenes of nudity. But, …the head of someone with schizophrenia is not sanitized for your protection. This film, if it does nothing else, at least provides the general public with a glimpse (albeit an exaggerated one) of what goes on, and what motivates, the people who commit these deeds… My Ratings: [2/4]
Michael Deegan, age 18, non-Christian
“The Cell” is a disturbing, visually stunning movie. At times I felt sorry for the serial killer. Can someone be viciously abused as a child and turn out OK? Does mental illness excuse horrendus behavior? “Yes and no” says the protagonist FBI agent. The movie is creepy and I would not recommend it to the squeamish. No children should see it. My 37 year old wife did not like it, although she did account for what may have been the only funny part of the movie when she nearly threw her drink on me during one of the jump scenes. Afterward, she accused me of wanting to see the movie only to look at Jennifer Lopez. The movie contains strong profanity, nudity (of dead bodies) perverted sexuality, torture, child abuse, self-mutilation and gruesome violence, all of which are integral parts of the movie. There is religious imagery which is not shown in a positive light, although I do not think the movie is trying to be anti-Christian. Even though a death of one innocent victim is prevented, I did not leave the theater uplifted but relieved the movie was over. From a theological viewpoint, I found the movie’s contention the heroine’s mind was pure quite laughable especially since I did not recall any profession of conversion from her. Somehow original sin must have had no impact on her mind. If only I could be so lucky. She also makes the decision to perform a “mercy killing”. I am uncomfortable when one person holds and exercises the power to take life outside the justice system which God has ordained. This is a recurring theme in many movies where the hero takes on all roles of our juducial system. I would like to see more movies where the accused is brought to trial instead of being summarily executed, but I guess that doesn’t sell as many tickets. My Ratings: [3/4]
Mark L. Gilliam, age 39
Well, my feelings of “The Cell” would be summed up like this: What a dirty movie. I wouldn’t recommend it off of the top of my head to any Christian because of the swearing, sex/nudity, violence and other subject matter. By Hollywood standards and mine it is enjoyable although grotesque. I am lenient with what I recommend, but there are limits. It’s rated R (or 18A in most of Canada) for a REASON! The story revolves around a FBI agent, Peter (Vince Vaughn) who is searching for a serial killer (Vincent D'Onofrio). When cop and bad guy catch up to each other the killer is in a coma. They need to find out the whereabouts of victim-7 who may still be alive. So they take killer to child psychologist Catherine (Jennifer Lopez) who has a way of going into a person’s mind and interact with the person. This is where the film get’s interesting. The mind of the killer is filled w/ abusive memories, power, screwed up baptisms and gore. The visuals of some of the rooms in his mind are quite amazing. There is a lot of symbolism (too much to go into) and for the learned viewer it can be a treat. If you are looking for anything that is redemptive in the movies don’t go to “The Cell.” There are no parts of the film that Christ would have used as examples of pureness. It is a tripped out vision of hell in a man’s mind. For those who can clue in to it there is the lesson that says the wages of sin are death. The fact that the movie follows the edict that if you believe in something and have a kid then you must be abusive as the killer’s father was. Where do they come up with this stuff? So in the end I say “The Cell” is amazing to watch, but it’s a trip I don’t recommend too many people to go see. Especially if you’re a Christian. Go see “X-Men” instead. My Ratings: [1/4]
Dan Revill, age 18
…this movie falls into the common situation that I like to call, “trailer trap.” You know, when the trailer makes the movie look much better than it really is? …this was a bad movie. There are far too many plotholes to mention in one post… it has nudity, some foul language, suspension (where a person sticks hooks into themself and hangs from them), a bleached corpse with flies lighting on it, and other various disgusting things… It actually starts off promising, however. I thought that it might end up being a good movie after all. But, after the first half-hour, that idea went right out the window. It follows basically every cliche that movies of this genre seem to have. I’m not sure why the FBI agent was so cautious heading into his lair at the end when he knew that the only person who knew where it was located was comatose? Especially when just before he was in a huge hurry to get there, due to time restraints. I’m curious how Jennifer was able to redo the security codes on the fly and prevent the people in the Master Control room from getting in. Basically, she’s a case-worker. Obviously, she must have a background in crypto-electronics. For some reason, she also had the knowledge of how to alter the drugs to induce her into a different state, against the shouting advice of her coworkers, of course. So, obviously, she also must have a strong pharmaceutical background as well. I’d also like to know why she had to walk around in her bikini underwear for two minutes in the beginning… what did that have to offer the plot, besides showing us what Jennifer Lopez looks like mostly naked… again? The foreshadowing is blatant and practically shoved down the audience’s throat… “THIS is what’s going to happen!” I don’t want to spoil it for those that still go and see it, so I won’t go into the idiotic ending and the events leading up to it, but… suffice it to say, I think that the FBI would have probably checked the information that leads them to the girl… oh, I don’t know… first thing instead of on a hunch? Anyways, I say wait for the $1.50 show and see it there, if at all. It’s not scary, the effects aren’t even all that good, and at times it’s just strange for no other reason than to be strange. Bleh. My Ratings: [1½/2]
Steven M. Schroeder, age 26, non-Christian
First of all, I judge a movie as a whole, not just count how many times they said the “f” word and complain about how offended I was. With that said, I feel this movie as a whole was worth seeing. The effects were done by some of the same people as “The Matrix”, and are outstanding. While not goggling at computer generated vortexes and landscapes, however, I was in a state of shock at the graphic violence and nude corpses of young women. Surprisingly enough, there was very little offensive language. A lot of movies have so much in them that you get used to it being part of the diaglogue, but this one was the opposite—I was used to not hearing any. But it wasn’t just effects, it had a good story, too. Jennifer Lopez’s character is very loving and caring about others. She uses a virtual reality device of some sorts to enter a young boy’s mind who is in a coma due to schizophrenia caused by a virus, and try to pull him out of it. The killer ends up having the same sort of disorder, so when he ends up in a coma, she tries to find the scared little boy inside him and love him. That’s about as much as I can say without giving away the whole movie. If you are easily offended, you’ll probably be offended by the grapic images, but if you can stomach it, and aren’t offended by seeing God’s work of art with no clothes on (though dead), then I recommend seeing it. I have spoken. My Ratings: [2½/4]
Mark Wagie, age 23
Do not go see this movie! It contains very graphic and sickening images of violence and it is not for anyone. I saw the A guy get his insides ripped out and I left! My Ratings: [1/1]
AS, age 18
Movie Critics
…Various instances of nudity are present (mostly of dead bodies), while the killer apparently masturbates near them…
…with extremely graphic violence, some nudity, and general disturbing content earn THE CELL a severely objectionable rating…
Preview Family Movie and TV Review
…a cold, calculating piece that is trying to cash in on the popularity of the style-over-substance filmmaking movement…
Jeff Vice, Deseret News
…devotes most of its length to ugly hallucinations…
Mike Clark, USA Today