Jimmy P.

Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian

Jimmy P.

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Directed by Arnaud Desplechin. Starring Benicio Del Toro, Mathieu Amalric, Gina McKee, Larry Pine, Joseph Cross, Gary Farmer, Michelle Thrush, Misty Upham, Michael Greyeyes, A Martinez, Elya Baskin, Danny Mooney, Chris Carlson. Written by Arnaud Desplechin, Kent Jones, Julie Peyr.

A Native American soldier returns home to Montana after suffering a severe head trauma overseas during WWII; stricken by debilitating, blinding headaches, he’s unable to adjust to day-to-day life, and is taken to a veteran’s hospital for observation. 

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But a team doctors can’t seem to find anything wrong with the man. With his body, at least. He passes all physical exams but doesn’t seem to cooperate on the psychological ones. That’s where George Deveraux, a budding French psychoanalyst who also happens to have an anthropological interest in American Indian culture, comes into play. 

Jimmy P. (onscreen title: Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian) is based on Deveraux’s novel Reality and Dream, which dealt with his psychoanalysis of the title character. Deveraux is played by Mathieu Amalric, who has starred in many of director Arnaud Desplechin’s previous films. Benicio Del Toro is Jimmy Picard, his Native American subject. 

Deveraux wasn’t exactly French – he was born in what is now Romania, though he spent much of his early life in France, and he’s an untrusted presence at the Topeka, Kansas hospital where he’s called in to examine Jimmy. Psychoanalytical treatment was in its infancy at the time, and Deveraux was given a single patient to prove his value. 

Jimmy Picard was also very much a stranger in Topeka. After spending the majority of his life on a Blackfoot reservation in Montana, Jimmy experienced something of a trial by fire in the outside world during WWII. At the veteran’s hospital, the only other Native American is a mute in a wheelchair; doctors initially put them together to see if they can help each other. 

But it’s Deveraux that truly helps Jimmy; where other doctors treat him clinically, it’s Deveraux’s persistent interest in his patient’s life and background that eventually breaks through. Finding a “solution” to Jimmy’s problems is almost irrelevant; one of the film’s greatest insights is that the therapeutic process itself might be just as important as any specific insights it can lead to. 

Amalric, recently so memorable in Polanski’s Venus in Fur, is engaging as the eccentric therapist, and his character has a fleshed-out storyline of his own, involving a married woman who comes to visit him in Topeka. Still, Deveraux’s own story – which comes off as the storyteller inserting himself into the story – is the weakest aspect of the movie; which is at its best during the therapy sessions. 

Jimmy P. is Del Toro’s film, and the actor carries it with a quiet, incredibly mannered performance that is quite different to we’ve seen from him before. The dream and flashback scenes – where we learn of Jimmy’s childhood, his family, the woman he loved and the daughter he abandoned – are what make the film as affecting as it is, aided by Howard Shore’s terrific score. 

At a long-ish 117-minutes, Jimmy P. can sometimes wear on your patience; there isn’t a conventional storyline to maintain interest, though the subplots can be riveting in fits and spurts. If you can forgive the film it’s slow, methodical nature – which is reflective of its central protagonist – this is a meditative, quietly effective story that might get to you. 

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