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Short Takes: The Mountain

(Rick Alverson; USA, Kino Lorber; Opening July 26)

In the 1950s-set road movie The Mountain, Rick Alverson, whose films anatomize American spiritual malaise, uses that most frontal of metaphors: the lobotomy. Tye Sheridan, Ready Player One’s gamer boy, here plays the differently zombified Andy. His mother institutionalized, Andy moves in a fugue state, sharpening skates and driving the Zamboni at the local ice rink, snowed under with Freudian dreams. A father figure emerges: Dr. Wallace Fiennes (Jeff Goldblum), the surgeon who performed a transorbital lobotomy on Andy’s mother. With a dazed flicker of guilt, “Wally” takes Andy on as his factotum as he crisscrosses chilly landscapes like a traveling salesman, his miracle-cure tools a long pick and dainty silver hammer.

The Mountain is set in a pre–Space Age ’50s, all colors fading into the wood panels of a restaurant, or the whitewashed walls of an asylum. Quirky stagings freeze into near-tableaux; surfaces remain opaque, depths unfathomed. Aside from the refrain of TV’s Perry Como singing “Home on the Range,” Alverson works not through stabs of irony but with a forbiddingly deliberate pace and straitened actors—a lobotomized style, which further restricts Sheridan’s recessive indie-protagonist role to a few dull shades of the same sullen expression. Everyone seems exhausted, but Goldblum summons a ghost of his caressing wit, wielding it as an instrument of control. And cinema’s most sui generis physical presence, Denis Lavant, is a marvelously gestural sloppy drunk and “Radiant Seeker”—another of Alverson’s total individuals, adrift and unreconciled.