A Cure For Wellness is one of those films that trickles into your brain a drop or two at a time until, at the end, you realize you are filled to the brim with the story and that it will be staying with you for a long, long while. It’s mesmerizing, completely absorbing, yet utterly disturbing. You can’t look away. And you don’t really want to.
On the surface, it’s a psychological thriller about a young man who is tasked with finding a work associate in order to get him to sign a business deal. Under the surface, however, it’s a fable, part gothic horror and part Greek myth, about extreme opposites, purity, and the search for a cure.
The tale begins with materialistic businessmen in a large city, intent on filling their pockets with money by any means necessary. Extreme measures are taken to ensure that they will continue to do so, no matter who gets in the way. In another part of the world, a spa for the wealthy advertises water so pure it can cure whatever ails you. It is a pristine, silent place, cut off from the rest of the world.
When Lockhart, the young man (played by Dane Dehaan), arrives at the spa, he is offered some of the water, which reminded me of several fairytales in which it is unwise to eat or drink anything offered you by residents of the other world. The story also reminded me of a common arc in myths, with humans undergoing a journey to the Underworld in order to gain something (wisdom, rescuing a loved one, etc.) — if they are able to make it out alive.
Lockhart’s journey is fraught with dangers, both internal and external, physical, mental, and emotional, driven from one extreme to the other as he searches for a way out. What he eventually learns is something that enlightened beings have tried telling us for years. There is a middle way, a balance that must be kept if we are to avoid the pitfalls set for us by pursuing extremes.
Of course, learning how to balance is not without repercussions. Most people tend toward extremes and there will always be pushback for those of us who attempt to trod the middle of the road. But A Cure For Wellness also shows the horror of what happens when people run to the extreme in order to solve their problems: we become less human.
People who try to solve all their problems with materialism become greedy monsters who will take what they can from everyone they meet. People who choose to combat their issues with pure science or spirituality remove themselves from the world and become detached and dehumanize those around them, sometimes even using them as fodder for experiments (history and literature bear this out – think of Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, or real-life examples like Nazi Germany).
Humanity itself has tried to solve its own problems by going from one extreme to the other since the beginning of time. We are looking for a way to cure ourselves of a supposed sickness. We want to be rid of our impurities. But maybe by doing that we are eradicating what makes us human. A Cure For Wellness asks, what is the cure for wellness? And do we need it?