A Cure for Wellness is, in short, brilliant in its symbolic use of motifs that include water, dead animals, and a ballerina. While the images may sound strange in how they may fit together, they do not if you pay attention to the storyline and the foreshadowing.
One of the first things that happens in the film is one thing that the audience may not expect. The camera zooms in on the fingers of Morris (Craig Wore) that peck away at a computer, then shortly after, pans over to show a photo of what looks like his wife and a dog then kids in another photo. A water jug tips over and the guy collapses, dead, beside it.
It foreshadows what gives you life has the potential to also kill you. There’s a darkness that lurks beyond the waters, at least the kind in Switzerland that claim that they hold a cure.
The camera then cuts to the main character, Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) who is riding a train, on the way to the Alps to fetch his company’s CEO, Pembroke (Harry Groener). Pembroke, in his letter that Lockhart reads, claims that he has chosen to stay at a wellness center which claims it has discovered the cure to end all diseases.
When Lockhart arrives at the mountains, the camera reveals people dressed in white bathrobes who are enjoying the sunlight in their own ways. They are playing a game of some sort over white tablecloths. The abundant bright sunlight sharpens the contrast against the white robes, giving the initial impression that the patients live in a sort of heaven on earth.
But it is an illusion.
Before Lockhart leaves for the Alps, he visits his mom in assisted living who has just had her birthday. He informs her he is going on a business trip and he will be back, but she tells him he will not. She also turns his attention to a ballerina figurine whose eyes are closed and she is dancing. Lockhart’s mom also tells him that she is not only dancing, but she is in a dream but has not awoken.
The ballerina ends up symbolizing one of the characters, a young woman named Hannah (Mia Goth). Something eerie seems to be occurring with her, especially in her oblivion as to how the world operates as is evident at a bar scene later in the film. While she may be in her early teens, she acts like she is seven years old, maybe a little younger or older, but not by much. She even cuddles with a stuffed animal when she sleeps. She also expresses naivety when she does not question the reason for some of the patients who disappear.
The set design of the office of the doctor shows dead animals mounted on the walls around the room as well as the older technology like the phone that sits on his desk. Lockhart gets into an accident with a busted leg and a moose that struggled to break free from the windshield that he gets stuck in.
Later on, the moose shows up and almost appears as an illusion while Lockhart has a steam bath as part of his supposed cure, but the more he seeks treatment, the more that goes wrong.
It’s difficult not to spoil the ending, but I would say that it does involve a break from the ignorance and the dream all the patients have and what I would call a drastic cleansing through literal fire. It also refers to the wellness center’s history in which a fire burned a woman, but a child was saved. It also shocks the audience with the surprise, but also the commonplace idea that eternal life is possible through one of the main characters.
Overall, the cinematography captured interest and kept me gasping at every twist when one aspect of the plot was revealed. Even when the screen faded to black at the final scene, the expression Lockhart wore gave the impression that the story will continue off-screen.
The film left me breathless and waiting for more. If you’re looking for a film that will expand your imagination and trap you in suspense, this is one you need to make time to watch.