A medieval-era healer who has been imprisoned is called upon for a difficult task: to rid the king of his demons. He’s been cloistered away and trapped inside, and his mind has turned against him, despite all the traditional treatments.
The healer attempts to work her craft, but just when she is on the verge of failure — and in danger of being hanged — she takes a different tack in connecting with the king and soothing the soul underneath the ailments.
Writer-director Misha Vertkin mixes historical fantasy with psychological horror in this compelling, gripping short, about a man lost in the labyrinth of his own terrors, and how he is pulled out of this mental maze through an act of simple yet profound compassion.
The narrative scope is fairly narrow — just a few characters in essentially one scene in one room — but the craftsmanship has a sense of sumptuousness to it despite the compactness of its story. Its cinematography is rich, textured and saturated in shadow, illuminating an evocative set design. Like many period films, attention to detail really sells the sense of being transported to another time and place, whether it’s in the costumes or the evocative score.
But the subject matter of one man’s mental state is handled in a way that both sheds light on how we once thought of the mind, but also the universal need for more compassion and empathy for those suffering from mental ailments. Mad kings do figure prominently in history, and what was called “madness” in older times was often handled barbarically, a fact that is effectively alluded to in the story, as the king is subjected to “treatments” that more closely resemble torture than anything else.
But as the healer discovers, what is most effective is more the simple, human act of really seeing and listening to someone. Actors Juliet Cowan and Peter Faulkner, who play the healer and king at the center of the story, both richly inhabit their roles, able to convey the sense of two complex lives and personalities converging upon this one encounter.
Faulkner especially captures the fog he is under, capturing “madness” not as a set of tics, but as a despair and fear about the limitations and misery of his existence. But when his path crosses the healer’s, she is able to penetrate through the complications to get to one essential matter — and discovers how profound the act of listening and seeing someone close can be.
The theme of “The Healer” is embedded in the title, but we often go about it in the wrong way, by attacking and blaming the sufferer, or often forgetting that the sufferer is in fact a human being, with needs, wants and desires. What the film captures is how we afflicted we are when we feel we aren’t witnessed or listened to — when we are neglected, made invisible or relegated to the sidelines of life. Even a king can be turned into a pawn of his own life — but when someone seemingly inconsequential finally is seen, he’s able to find his voice again, and find his way back into his own life.