BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF. — Movies take so long to complete, it's impossible for producers to predict the tenor of the times in which the final product will be released. But for the film "K-Pax" (see review), the tagline of "Change the way you look at the world" couldn't be more timely.
"This movie deals with questioning your own belief systems, other values, other realities, just like we all are doing in these times," says "K-Pax" star Jeff Bridges.
He plays a psychiatrist faced with a patient named Prot (played by Kevin Spacey), who claims to be from another planet. As the psychiatrist investigates Prot's claims, Bridges says his character is forced to realize that whether or not the man is actually from another planet, he is changing the way the psychiatrist - and an entire ward of patients - views the world.
Bridges is particularly pleased by the notion that the film provokes, rather than answers, questions.
"It's like a giant mystery," he says. "It's one thing to one person and something else to another."
"The entire film is an investigation," says producer Lloyd Levin. "It was important to fully play out all sides [of the question]."
Based on a novel by the same name, the film took more than seven years to complete, in part, says fellow producer Larry Gordon, "because it was about something which is very difficult to get studios to go for."
The story is as much about the psychiatrist's own personal journey as it is the issue of whether or not Prot is an alien. "Jeff's character is learning more about himself than Prot," Levin adds.
"The film is something of a giant Rorschach test," says Spacey, who plays the possible alien, Prot. "It will tell you about your approach to life as much as answer the question, 'Is my character an alien or not?' "
"K-Pax" does provide answers to other questions, says two-time Oscar winner Spacey.
"The film is about believing in something, and it's about wonder," he says. The filmmakers took special care to avoid obvious traps, he adds. The first had to do with it being set in a mental institution. "We wanted to be very careful that this was not about a bunch of wacky patients," he says.
They screened several notable films with similar settings and visited hospitals. "We were looking for the right tone," says Spacey, who adds that Prot has the power to change the lives of the other patients for a simple reason: "He approaches them as people."
"We had a deep desire to make it real with the other patients," says director Iain Softley. "If you're asking people to entertain the possibility of an alternative reality, then it must feel authentic."
Next, they took pains to distinguish what was important about the human-or-alien question at the heart of the film.
"It's [just] as important to believe he's human as to believe he's alien," says screenwriter Charles Leavitt. "I personally think it's more incredible to think he's a human than alien for what it says about what we [humans] could do."
This sense of human potential in the face of great adversity is a theme that has an unexpectedly powerful meaning in today's climate.
"Immediately after the [Sept. 11] attacks, there was a time when we all wondered if anything had any meaning at all," says director Softley. He calls "K-Pax" "a modern fable, because it makes you reflect upon how you live your life."
"It makes me realize how fragile life is, and how important it is to get it right, especially for the children," says Bridges, who is the father of three.
"This film coming out in these times touches my heart," he says.