This is yet another great feature film from director Brian De Palma (responsible for Scarface, Carlito’s Way, Dressed to Kill, Mission: Impossible, just to name a few. Snake Eyes is also a De Palma film, I happen to like that one although I think a lot of people think it’s no good. I’m a Nicholas Cage fan myself so, I might be biased.)
We have John Lithgow (do I really need to explain who THIS is?) playing Carter Nix, a mild mannered, well respected child psychologist. He’s middle aged, married and has a child. He has taken time out of his practice in order to be a stay-at-home Dad and test some of his new child raising theories on his own kid. (Okay, not sure I would agree to letting my kid be a “guinea pig” for child rearing experiments but, hey, I guess that’s just me.)
Then there’s Jenny, his wife, played by Lolita Davidovich. Jenny is a doctor and works at the local hospital. Jenny, though she loves her husband and her work, is starting to get concerned about the extent to which Carter is obsessing about their daughter, Amy. He wants to document every little thing, study and examine every little thing. For instance, instead of regular baby monitors around the house, Carter uses a camera to watch and listen to their daughter, it is linked to the tv in the bedroom. (Kinda creepy.)
We are also introduced to Carter’s twin, Cain and their father, Dr. Nix Sr., who also happens to be a child psychologist.
Now, Jenny is getting frustrated because Carter is majorly preoccupied with studying their daughter and the fact the he is a doctor and has decided to “play house Dad”, in her words. She also seems upset that SHE is the one that has to be out working (This just seems SO outlandish to me. Currently, about 40% of women work outside the home. Of that 40%, about 60% are the bread winners in the household. It’s totally okay to be a working woman and the father stay home).
So, needless to say, the marriage isn’t a completely happy one.
Cain, the twin, is the epitome of the total opposite of Carter. He’s an overgrown hoodlum, a thug and a bully. He had a much rougher childhood than Carter and was in and out of institutions and detention centers, etc. his whole life.
Nix Sr. is a rickety old man with an attitude. For a child psychologist, he lacks an amazing amount of compassion and understanding. He’s manipulative and cruel at his core.
Now, a lot, and I do mean A LOT, happens in this movie. I’m going to give you a VERY condensed rundown because, no matter what I write here, I can’t cover everything AND I want you all to watch this flick.
Carter and Cain are in cahoots with each other as they murder women and kidnap children for Carter’s child development research, which is work he is continuing in the footsteps of his father.
Jenny runs into an old flame, Jack. Jack met Jenny when Jack’s wife was in the hospital for cancer treatment. They had an affair and then Jack decided it was over and left Jenny. Now, he’s come back, saying that he was wrong to leave and wished he had gotten his head out of his butt sooner. (Funny how that happens, when you finally get to where you should be, the ones you crapped on along the way aren’t around anymore.) A man’s need for sex and a woman’s need for attention is all that is required to rekindle their love affair.
Carter soon finds out about this and is crushed. He tries to kill Jenny and sink her car in a local lake. He also leaves subtle clues to lure the police to Jack as their murder suspect.
Carter goes to the police to report his wife missing. He gives an act so blatantly overplayed that even the most rookie of investigators would know that something wasn’t quite right here. Meanwhile, the cops are investigating the deaths of two other women.
One is a friend of the Nix family. She has a small son who Carter plans to add to his experiment. The other woman is a babysitter that he knows. He has killed them both.
During the investigation, we meet a retired detective who hangs out at the department because he just can’t let go of the job. Once a cop, always a cop. Just like any good detective, he remembers his cases well. Some things just stick with a cop, ya know? And this particular cop recognizes not only the name Nix but, Carter looks so much like his father it’s eerie to this man.
(Let’s talk about Dr. Nix Sr. for a minute. This “doctor” was caught buying babies for his control group for his research. He was caught with five children. Once arrested he skipped bail. Carter is supposed to be continuing his father’s line of research and work. Nix Sr. is known for his work in child psychology, specifically Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD). The problem that’s encountered with research of this nature is that doctors know what happens AFTER the child’s psyche splits but, not what happens DURING the actual split and how it manifests itself. Nix was the first to find a child who developed MPD and witnessed first hand the actual splintering of the psyche and documented it in extreme detail. He also co-authored a paper on this topic, “Raising Cain: The creation and evolution of the multiple personality” with a woman, Dr. Waldheim. It was based on one of Nix’s patients. Dr. Waldheim started to question how Nix was getting such exclusive and extensive detailed information on Cain’s abusive childhood and what tortures he endured. She was never allowed to meet or speak to Cain and all of her information on the study came directly from taped sessions Nix had given her. She begins to put the pieces together and realizes that Nix is CREATING Cain, he caused the torture that made the child’s personality splinter and caused multiple personalities to emerge. She was appalled at this and quit the project. However, child known as Cain grew up.)
Now that the retired cop knows who Carter is, the investigators get in contact with Dr. Waldheim to get the background story on Nix Sr.
The police eventually arrest Carter on suspicion of murdering his wife. She didn’t die when he put her in the lake in her car. She was able to escape the car. Now, she is at the police department with Jack (he was cleared of murder when Jenny showed up alive and told the police about Carter attacking her.) Knowing his background and who his father was, they bring in Dr. Waldheim to interview Carter.
This is when it’s confirmed that Carter and Cain are the same person. They are two of the personalities our subject has. There are at least two others, an older woman who is a nanny named Margo and a shy little boy named Josh.
It is revealed that Nix Sr. tortured his own child, Cain, in order to force the split personalities to happen.
While this interview is going on all the talking is done by the Josh and Margo personalities. Then Cain appears and knocks out the good doctor, escaping his cuffs and exiting the facility in which he’s being held. He sneaks out of the building wearing Waldheim’s clothes.
Jenny, who is outside the office smoking a cigarette, sees “Dr. Waldheim” leaving and goes after her to get the scoop on what happened during the interview because Amy, the daughter study subject, is missing and only Carter and/or his personalities know where she is.
Jenny follows who she believes to be the doctor to a motel. There she finds Carter’s father, with her child and an infant (presumably the infant the babysitter had when she was murdered at the park), trying to flee the motel. She has a confrontation with him and ultimately, the children are rescued.
Carter is assumed to be gone, on the run and is not apprehended. Nix Sr. is stabbed and killed. Jack is free and he and Jenny and Amy move on with their lives.
There are a number of twists and turns in this film. A definite film that will keep any suspense/thriller fan on their toes. John Lithgow gives an excellent performance. His transitions from personality to personality are seamless. As the story progresses, so does Carter’s psychopathy, sending him through a reeling whirlwind of torment…and we get front row seats!
There are a number of sarcastic wise cracks and jokes made in the film yet, they stay on the darker tone of the movie.
The story is extremely complicated and yet, fairly easy to follow throughout. There are no holes in the plot. This would be an especially good movie for those who love psychological thrillers and mind-bending movies.
The whole film is well done and well put together but, John Lithgow REALLY makes this movie a gem for many kinds of horror fans.