Dr. Melrose: A Study in Evil
Patrick Malahide played the villainous Dr. Melrose in Heaven, a 1998 New Zealand / USA co-production. And I do mean villainous. He isn’t at all sympathetic. I often sympathize a bit with Patrick Malahide’s villainous characters, but this one is dreadful. He is, however, very well played. Mr. Malahide’s execution is perfect and Dr. Melrose is every bit as evil as he needs to be.
Quick Plot Overview
Robert Marling (Martin Donavon) is a gambling addicted architect going through a custody battle with his ex-wife Jennifer (Joanna Going). She is having an affair with his psychiatrist Dr. Melrose. Marling is hired by his friend Stanner (Richard Schiff) to renovate his strip club The Paradise which features transgender dancers. One of the dancers, Heaven (Danny Edwards), strikes up a rapport with Marling. She is able to see the future which comes to her in the form of incredibly painful migraine-like attacks and helps him win money with her foresight. Heaven is also a patient of Dr. Melrose’s, and he uses her prophesies for his own gain. Specifically, he learns that Marling will win a huge amount of money, and Dr. Melrose uses that knowledge to manipulate Jennifer.
Not a Doting Dad
Dr. Melrose makes his first appearance when he picks up his son after school. Jennifer Marling is there also picking up her son Sean. Dr. Melrose greets her saying that his son goes back to his mother at seven. That is his not-so-subtle way of telling Jennifer they can be together after that time. She repeats seven and it would seem a date is set, “seven it is,” says Melrose. Sean is a better judge of character than his mother; when Dr. Melrose greets him, Sean just ignores him sitting silently despite being friends with Melrose’s son.
Dr. Melrose and Jennifer are on their date in a fancy restaurant where a small group plays Bach chamber music. Melrose isn’t a fan, “I hate this place, I don’t know why we come here.” He is given a plate with a cornish hen which he tears apart and eats with his fingers. I think that is meant to tell us something about his personality, actually. Jennifer thinks she is pushing to hard on the terms of the divorce settlement. Robert is broke, so it seems rather pointless to try and get money he doesn’t have.
But, Dr. Melrose knows better. “Look at me, soon he will be getting a huge windfall. You’ll thank me.” Jennifer: “How do you know this?”
He knows because Heaven tells him during one of her sessions. She also reveals that Robert will win because she helps him. “Why?” “Because he saved me.”
Not a Good Friend Either
Robert doesn’t know about the affair and thinks he can trust the doctor. He calls him asking for a favor. Melrose is so smooth, “well of course, but why don’t you tell me what it is first.” The scene alternates between Robert asking Dr. Melrose to write a letter saying that he no longer has a gambling problem and Melrose telling Jennifer all about the conversation. “You, my dear, are going to love this,” he tells her. He is enjoying himself.
Robert tells Melrose that Jennifer is trying to get money he doesn’t have and that she wants sole custody of Sean. She is claiming that Robert is an unfit parent because of his gambling. Robert asks Melrose to write a letter telling them that he no longer gambles and to tell them how she slept around during their marriage, “Christ, we both came to you for counseling when we were together, you know her.” He knows her a lot better than Robert realizes. And it is clear from his facial expressions that Melrose is rather amused by Robert’s plight but promises to help Robert.
Jennifer is angry about that last bit, but Melrose has a plan. He tells her that he taped Robert’s phone call. He tapes all his phone calls. Jennifer is worried that he’s taping her. “Well, of course not,” he says while looking at the active recording tape, “you think I want a record of me talking to a patient’s wife, especially one who has multiple orgasms.” Yeah, he taped that.
Robert goes to Sean’s school and picks him up during class. The teacher is reluctant and would like to call Jennifer first, but Robert says that Jennifer has been in an accident. So, the teacher lets Sean go.
And He’s a Horrible Therapist
Meanwhile, Heaven is having a session with Dr. Melrose. He is clicking a pen repeatedly and Heaven asks him not to do that. Being a sadist, he clicks it a bit more, “Would you like me to stop?” Finally he stops and tries to get more information on Robert’s fortune. But, the light outside is bothering Heaven, a clear sign a migraine is coming on. One does and she passes out on the couch.
Melrose gives a very predatory look, the dark lighting enhancing his blue eyes remarkably, and moves towards her. He tries to find out what she sees, but she is out of it. He takes that opportunity to move his hand up her leg, but before he can get far the phone rings. It is Jennifer telling him that Robert has taken Sean.
Melrose is angry at being interupted and tells Jennifer she needs to calm down and says she is being irrational. At that moment, Robert and Sean walk in on Jennifer, so she hangs up the phone.
Heaven comes to and Melrose asks what she saw, “I saw you.” He acts surprised, “Me?” She turns the tables on him saying she knows that he wants her.
So, Sean is fine. Robert just wanted to let him know he loves him despite what Jennifer might say. Robert and Jennifer have dinner and when they go back to her place it seems they are reconnecting. Well, that is until Jennifer says that Robert has to be gone by morning. He angrily leaves, slamming the door behind him.
Suddenly a light starts clicking on and off. It is Melrose. He was there all the time. “Great floor show. How was dinner?” His clicking the lights harkens back to the pen scene. Jennifer seems more annoyed than anything which struck me as odd. You’d think she’d be horrified to find him there. It is a very creepy and unsettling scene.
Melrose’s World Falls Apart
Robert has to meet Jennifer’s lawyer. She now has Melrose there to talk about Robert’s gambling addiction. Melrose looks a little different in this scene because he has a plastic bandage on his cheek. Heaven knows exactly what is going to happen at the meeting and gives Robert some tapes.
There is a fantastic moment where Heaven is warning Robert about Melrose, “The man she’s with..you know him…I know him…he’s evil. She doesn’t know it, yet, but he is. He’s a devil” As she is speaking the camera focuses on Melrose looking decidedly evil indeed. It is a really well executed scene and I just love the way it looks.
Anyway, the tapes are sound recordings of Melrose molesting his patients during hypnotherapy sessions. Phone calls weren’t the only things he recorded. We find out what happened to Heaven during that last therapy session and why he has a bandage on his cheek. When Heaven, who is transgender, dared him to find out what was in her underwear he attacked her and tried to assault her. She whacked him on the face with his telephone, knocking him out. It is a brutal scene.
Jennifer is done with Melrose for good but, he enters her home demanding she give him the tapes. He threatens to hurt her badly, but she smacks him on the face. He then breaks down and starts crying, “I’m finished…please?” She tells him to get out, he looks furious for a brief moment, but then leaves.
Finally, we see him driving his car and he looks relaxed. He hits the accelerator and closes his eyes and then crashes. It is a hideous scene with lots of blood. It seems he just gave up in the end. A rather ignominious ending but fitting.
I like the way Heaven’s premonitions develop into facts and the blending of timelines is very well done. The title character Heaven is excellent and very likable. Karl Urban, who I didn’t mention above, plays a character called Sweeper. He cares for Heaven deeply, and he is really good. I also like Robert Marling. I can’t say I “like” Dr. Melrose, but Patrick Malahide did an excellent job portraying him as a completely unsympathetic wretched man. He starts out smooth and sly but ends up a complete wreck.
However it is not a perfect film. The language was just too much, in my opinion, particularly from Stanner who is a bigger villain than Melrose. Every other word out of Stanner’s mouth was an expletive and it didn’t feel natural to me at all. I don’t think I’m overly prudish about such things, but Stanner was a weak point for me which is bad because he had a huge role. It is also very violent. While the violence is understandable in the context of the film it was still jarring.