In "Passion of Mind," Demi Moore plays an emotionally detached career woman who believes that, when she falls asleep each night in Manhattan, she wakes to a completely different life as a widow and loving mother in France. Or is it the other way around?
She might be dreaming, as acquaintances on both continents keep telling her, but if she is, which life is real?
Such a quandary could keep a platoon of psychiatrists busy for years. But if Moore's twin characters are disoriented, think about the audience. Watching "Passion," our own sense of reality buckles and warps. Are we dreaming, or have we already seen this film two or three times before? How did Gwyneth Paltrow, who starred as two same-but-different characters in the lighter-hearted "Sliding Doors," manage to morph into Moore? And what was Paltrow's movie, anyway, but a dim (and diminished) reflection of "The Double Life of Veronique"?
"Passion" is like a hall of mirrors, casting back at us distorted images from other movies. It even calls to mind "The Sixth Sense" in the way that the ending is meant to spin us around, make us replay the film in our minds to find the clues we overlooked the first time. The difference is that we cared about the characters in "The Sixth Sense," but until "Passion" wades into the ontological murk of its "surprise ending," it isn't engaging in the least.
Switching back and forth between New York and France, we're fed slivers of two essentially static stories. Marty and Marie, Moore's twin selves, meet and fall in love with two men so sensitive and lovably eccentric that they seem the stuff of dreams. But mostly she sits around with anyone who will listen, muttering variations of lines like "I have a whole other life in France" and "That's the problem with all you guys--you all think you're real."
In this, Belgium-born director Alain Berliner's ("Ma Vie en Rose") first English-language film, nobody behaves the way a real person would. Long after anyone else would've concluded she was mad, Marty/Marie's suitors (Stellan Skarsgard and William Fichtner) continue their pursuit. And when Marty wakes up one morning in her sterile Manhattan apartment, still panting and writhing from Marie's passionate encounter in Provence, convinced that the lover and the sex were as real as the sheets that entwine her, does she check herself into Bellevue? Nope. She just continues her moping and fretting.
For reasons I can't explain without giving too much away, "Passion" plays like a distaff version of "Frequency," the current Dennis Quaid film in which a man and his long-dead father communicate with each other through time. This is emotionally rich material, which "Frequency" takes full advantage of for a time, but both movies seem afraid of challenging audiences. Apparently to avoid confusing anyone, "Passion" has its characters reiterate Marty/Marie's dilemma over and over until there's hardly time left for a real story--she lives two lives, but she does very little actual living.
After "G.I. Jane" (1997) and "Striptease" (1996), it's good to see Moore star again in a movie in which the main attraction isn't her physical form, in all its sweaty splendor. But she does nothing here that would persuade her detractors that she is a good actress.
Despite Berliner and writers Ronald Bass and David Field's attempt to keep the story simple, "Passion" still gets confusing at the end. This also is when it gets interesting, but the final 10 minutes can't redeem the tedium that came before. One mark of whether this kind of movie works is how eagerly we rehash every detail as we rewind the movie in our minds. "The Sixth Sense" sent audiences out the door eager to get back in line to watch the movie a second time. The ending of "Passion" didn't make me want to see it again. I didn't even care to remember I saw it the first time.
Passion of Mind, 2000. PG-13 for scenes of sexuality. A Paramount Classics presentation of a Lakeshore Entertainment production in association with Ron Bass productions. Director Alain Berliner. Screenplay Ronald Bass and David Field. Producers Carole Scotta, Tom Rosenberg, Ronald Bass. Executive producers Gary Lucchesi, William Kepper, Ted Tannebaum, Sigurjon Sighvatsson. Cinematographer Eduardo Serra. Production designer Pierre-Francois Limbosch. Editor Anne V. Coates. Costume designer Valerie Pozzo Di Borgo. Composer Randy Edelman. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. Demi Moore as Marty/Marie. Stellan Skarsgard as William. William Fichtner as Aaron. Sinead Cusack as Jessie. Peter Riegert as Dr. Peters.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times