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Theme:  Turning the "System" Upside Down


K-Pax is the intriguing story of a man named Prot confined to a New York City Psychiatric Hospital because he claims to be from the unknown planet K-Pax.  It is a thought provoking film with an unusual ending. (If you left before the credits finished, you didn't see the ending.)  However, what is most intriguing is the similarity with two other releases, The Last Castle and Monster, Inc.  How can these three movies be similar?  they share the same heart story. 

Turning the System Upside Down

There exists a "closed system" which is hierarchical in nature.

There is a proud taskmaster over the system.

The system creates an atmosphere of fear which breeds anger, strife, competition, corruption, disunity, hatred, and chaos.

Someone comes from the outside (another world/dimension) into the closed system and takes on the appearance of those at the bottom.

Even though they are in the system, their heart remains free.  They are fearless and do not operate by the rules of the closed system.

They possess clear insight into the heart of those in the system.

The presence of this "outsider" effects the entire system turning it literally upside down.

The power of fear is broken by the power of love.

The outsider leaves, but lives on in the hearts of those who have been transformed rather than conformed.


The Closed System

The metaphor used for the closed system in K-Pax  is the psychiatric hospital.  It is a microcosm of the earth, so that everything that happens in the hospital is symbolic of the entire planet.  It is a hierarchical system with the patients confined to the lower floors while the psychiatrists are on the top.  Just as it is impossible to imagine one wanting to be confined to a mental hospital, it is impossible to imagine anyone entering this system (the world) from the outside.

The Taskmaster

The overseers of this system are the intellectual elite represented by the psychiatrists and astronomers.  Their intellectual pride makes them view the mental patients like small annoying children.  The patients are too numerous and they are too busy, so the solution is to drug them.  There is something different about Dr. Mark Powell that sets him apart from his colleagues.  He makes a novel suggestion to the other psychiatrists, "How about getting to know him," which is quickly dismissed.  It may be this difference that causes Prot to choose him.1

The Atmosphere

The atmosphere of the earth and its microcosm, the hospital, are established in the first scene.  A man in a wheelchair is sitting begging in Grand Central Station.  People hurriedly pass by putting money in his cup while virtually ignoring him.  No one speaks to him or gets down to his eye level.  He is a nonentity to the "haves".   The same theme of ignoring those at the bottom is carried over into the hospital where the "haves" are medicating the "have-nots".

The first patient we see is filled with fear.  Fear is what alienates human beings from one another and from God (Genesis 3: 9-10).  Permeating the atmosphere of a closed system, it creates strife, anger, hostility, and corruption; all of which are symptoms of mental "illness".

The Outsider

The man in the wheelchair that no one "saw" is the first to see Prot 2.  Prot has arrived from K-Pax 3 where they have harnessed the energy of light and can travel faster than light.  Light is the metaphor for the film.  It is as if Prot comes to bring light into dark places (the hospital/earth) and to illuminate the hearts of those caught in the darkness.


From the first moment we meet Prot, we understand that he does not operate by the rules of the closed system.

He is led like a child to the psychiatric hospital.  It is a place of wonder and awe to him, not fear.

He is sensitive to white light and can "see" ultra violet light.  A metaphor that he can see things we cannot.

He helps the other patients not with drugs, but with tasks unique to them, which confounds and disturbs the doctors.

He disappears for three days

He leaves when it is time for him to go.


The dark glasses Prot wears symbolize his special ability to see the world through different 'lenses".  He can look into the patient's heart recognizing what each one needs in order to be "cured".  He can see the contradiction in Dr. Powell between sharing his family with Prot, while at the same time not speaking to his son.  He understands that the display he puts on for the smirking astronomers demonstrates not only their intellectual pride, but heir ignorance as well. 

Upside Down

Prot's presence literally turns the psychiatric hospital upside down!  The classic scene is when the Bluebird of Happiness appears to Howie.  The first of three tasks Prot has assigned to Howie is to watch for the Bluebird of Happiness.  The result of Howie seeing the bluebird is an outbreak of joy in all the other patients.  The view from outside the hospital looking in through the windows is profound.   The lower floors are filled with patients, all those that are supposed to be depressed, oppressed, and obsessed, jumping for joy!  Up above on the top floor, the psychiatrists are looking down and they are the ones that look depressed, lifeless, and joyless!

Power of Love

The key to the entire movie is in the early scene of Prot telling the other patients about life on K-Pax.  In the background Russ is reading his Bible out loud.  The passage he is reading is the famous love passage written by the apostle Paul to the Corinthians (I Corinthians 13) 4.  Prot comes into a system of "unlove" and fear"; i.e. the man in the wheelchair observing a mugging.  What he brings into this system is unconditional love.  When he departs, people have been changed.  A catatonic man in a wheelchair is being taken for a walk and spoken to face to face.  A hugging (father and son) takes place in the very spot where the mugging occurred.


The system has been transformed from within.  Howie and Ernie are "cured" and released.  Mrs. Archer is out of her room.  The once depressing hospital has experienced joy and laughter;. Hope has been restored.  Dr. Mark Powell sees patients, not problems.  He takes time and interest with those left under his care.  His family is reunited.  As for Bess, (which means "pledged to God"), Prot was so pleased with her essay that he chose her to go to K-Pax (Genesis 5:24).  After all, she was the one who recognized him and needed a home.  If you came out of the theater thinking Prot was really Robert Porter, you didn't stay to see the last scene.  After all the credits are shown, you'll find Dr. Mark Powell out gazing at the stars, standing and smiling next to his large telescope!

Scripture:  I Corinthians 13

The Real Story

The earth was once an Eden where the atmosphere was unconditional love.  When Adam and Eve "fell" into separation from God, the first emotion they experienced was fear (Genesis 3: 9-10).  Fear permeates any system where God is excluded.  Into this "closed system" Jesus Christ came.  He is the life that brings light (John 1:1-5) and illuminates the darkness.  The ruler of this world has no power over Him (John 14:30-31) and could not prevent His breaking the power of fear by His unconditional love (John 3:16-21).  For all those who receive this love, there is peace a thousand fold....K-Pax (John 14:27).


1.  When the head psychiatrist, Claudia, asks Powell, "Why this one?",  he says, "Maybe because he chose me."

2.  Prot, var. of proto.  Proto, a combining form meaning "first", "foremost", "earliest form of"

3.  "K" means thousand; "Pax" means peace

4.  Love Is... by Wendy Anderson Halperin is highly recommended; a powerful presentation of I Corinthians 13.

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