THE SINGING DETECTIVE is a reworked version of a six-part British television miniseries broadcast on PBS in the U.S.A. in the mid 1980s. It’s a redemptive tale with a humanist worldview that tells how a troubled man, suffering from a terrible illness, works through the demons plaguing his life. It contains, however, explicit sexual scenes, nudity and strong foul language, and a bizarre plot, that, combined, is inappropriate for moral audiences.
Robert Downey, Jr., plays Dan Dark, a mystery novelist whose latest outbreak of a crippling skin disease has landed him in the hospital. Extremely bitter about his circumstances, and his failed marriage, Dark begins hallucinating scenes from his novel, THE SINGING DETECTIVE, interspersed with scenes from his childhood, which suffered from a broken marriage and tragedy. Eventually, the hospital sends him to an eccentric psychiatrist named Dr. Gibbons, played by Mel Gibson, who dares to confront Dark’s tortured mind.
The movie version of this tale contains bizarre paranoid visions of murder, sex, music, and a dysfunctional family life. Characters often break out into song, lip-synching to 1950s tunes, in hallucinations from Dan’s fevered brain. This gives a strange nostalgic quality to the story. As a child, Dan goes through terrible traumas. For example, he accidentally sees his mother cheating on his father, who kicks her out of the house. Later, in Los Angeles, Dan’s mother turns to prostitution to make ends meet. This tragic past gets re-worked in the visions from Dan’s novel, which concerns the murder investigation of a prostitute. Back in the hospital, visits from Dan’s estranged wife turn into angry paranoid delusions about her stealing his novel and selling it to Hollywood.
The psychiatrist in the tale helps Dan unravel all these twisted situations. At the end of the story, Dan is cured of his skin disease, which is partly, if not mostly, psychological. He even re-unites with his wife, resulting in a positive, moral, and redemptive ending.
The Bible tells us that human beings are both body and spirit. Within that dual humanity, we can suffer “psychological” trouble that affects our mental activities, our emotional stability, our moral conscience, and our relationship with God. Also, the relationship or connection between our bodies and our spirits can be disturbed by physical traumas and spiritual problems. The complete answer to such troubles, traumas, and problems, however, is not humanist psychology or medical science, though they may help us somewhat; it is turning to God, Jesus Christ, and God’s Word.
In THE SINGING DETECTIVE, the hero is helped by humanist psychology and medical science, but the movie never really deals with the hero’s spiritual trauma and his own sinful nature. Also, the movie contains plenty of strong foul language and explicit sex scenes with male nudity and implied female nudity. There is also some violence and very gross images of the hero’s debilitating skin disease. The filmmakers could have told this tale without all of this graphic content. The direction by Keith Gordon is also kind of flat and is hampered by the story’s unlikable, bitter hero. On the other hand, Robert Downey, Jr., gives a fine performance as the troubled hero, as do Mel Gibson as the sympathetic psychiatrist and Robin Wright Penn as the concerned wife.
In the final analysis, the filmmakers also should have added some spiritual, Christian insights to delve even deeper and more accurately into the theme of psychological trauma. In fact, it would be interesting to see a Christian filmmaker tackle such a subject in a thorough, provocative, entertaining manner.
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SUMMARY: THE SINGING DETECTIVE is a bizarre, unique tale of a detective novelist, who has become tortured by a tragic past and a debilitating skin disease. The movie’s slightly moral, redemptive ending cannot overcome the movie’s humanist outlook on personal trauma, or its strong foul language, explicit sex scenes, and very gross images of the hero’s terrible skin disease.
(H, C, B, LLL, VV, SSS, NN, A, D, MM) Humanist worldview validating psychological introspection with some vague Christian references and a redemptive outcome that re-unites an estranged married couple; at least 31 obscenities, five strong profanities, five light profanities, vomiting, and man has gross skin disease; action violence includes a couple gun battles, murders, woman gets shot, woman drowned, man killed, man hits prostitute, and images of police fishing woman’s dead body out of water; extreme sexual content such as explicit scenes of depicted fornication and adultery, boy’s mother turns to prostitution, and man has masturbatory fantasy with nurse; upper and rear male nudity and implied female nudity; alcohol use; smoking; and, paranoia, uncontrollable anger, bitterness, accusations turn out to be untrue, and very rude behavior.
GENRE: Comedy/Film Noir/Musical