CAIRO: “The Blue Elephant,” a film directed by Marwan Hamed based on a novel by Ahmed Morad, is a psychological thriller that hit cinemas in Eid al-Fitr and left the audience dazzled by an experience rarely seen in the Egyptian cinema industry.
The film is based on a novel with the same name published in 2012. The story revolves around Yehia, played by Karim Abdel Aziz, a desperate psychiatrist, who has lived in isolation for five years after his wife and daughter’s death in a car accident caused by his drunkenness. Yehia returns to work in the Abbasiya Mental Asylum, to find that he is now taking responsibility for a new case in the “Eight West” sector, which holds murderers who are suspected of being mentally ill.
His first case is a former colleague, Sherif el-Kordy, played by Khaled el-Sawy, who is also the brother of the love of his life, Lobna, played by Nelly Karim. We learn then that Yehia and Sherif got into a conflict during their college days when Sherif refused Yehia’s marriage to Lobna.
Yehia learns that Sherif, previously a psychiatrist himself, raped and murdered his own wife while she was pregnant, and has been claiming that another entity that he refers to as “Nayel” forced him to do so. That is when Yehia dedicates his time and energy to help Sherif, convinced that he is innocent and might be mentally ill.
Throughout the film, we explore both main characters, Yehia and Sherif, while the main plot revolves around Yehia trying to solve Sherif’s mystery with Lobna’s help.
The similarities between both characters began to appear to show that their personalities are in some way connected; both Yehia and Sherif hold PhD’s in how to psychologically analyze body language. Ironically enough, Sherif’s specifically was about body language and schizophrenia, which is the same illness he is suspected of suffering from.
Yehia gets caught up in Sherif’s case, trying to get him to break his silence. However, whenever he spoke, he identified himself as ‘Nayel’, which leads Yehia to believe that Sherif is suffering some type of dissociative identity disorder or schizophrenia. He is confronted more than once by ‘Nayel’, who seems to be very vocal while Sherif seemed to be incapable of speech.
During the first portion of the film, the audience is torn between both lead male characters, merely focusing on whether or not Sherif is mentally ill, since the issue of possession was only brought up near the end of the movie. But as the film progresses, the focus switches to Yehia and the possibility that he himself due to his alcoholism, trauma, and isolation has developed an illness and is schizophrenic. Suspicions then begin to arise that he is manipulating Sherif for his own benefits and taking revenge on him for not letting him marry the love of his life.
Both suspicions at this time seem possible to the audience, since the basis and logic to each of them is solid. That’s when the movie takes the viewers on a journey to solve all mysteries and cut loose ends. Yehia is introduced to “The Blue Elephant,” a form of Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), known as only the ‘blue drug’ and can be consumed in many ways. It is known to be one of the most dangerous and intense psychedelic drugs.
There are three sequences in the film in which Yehia takes the drug, all of which are very well presented in terms of graphics, direction, editing, and a very powerful soundtrack. Naturally, they all reveal the inside of Yehia’s subconscious. But it was in the third sequence that he starts discovering who and what “Nayel” might be, more is revealed about Sherif’s character and what might have happened to him, taking the focus back from Yehia.
The conclusion of the film, in a departure from the novel’s ending, gives closure to the audience and solves the mysteries yet it makes other things in the film seem unreasonable and creates plot holes. For instance, Yehia’s relationship and segment with a girl, Maya, and how it tragically ended during his first DMT trip in a way similar to Sherif’s relationship with his wife right before the crime. Maya’s segment, in the book, implied an even stronger tie and connection between Yehia and Sherif’s characters that the ending washed out and made questionable.
The entire mood of the film was set properly, as black magic, crime and mental illness were presented with the help of the dark visual style of the film and the film’s score. Yet by the end of the film, the final scenes are visually colorful and cheerful; which serves what the ending implies, but on the other hand, besides confusing the viewer, alters the mood that was set throughout the entire film.
In terms of visuals, excessive use of slow motion in the first part was a bit exaggerated. It was clear that they this particular effect was used to imply Yehia’s intelligence, placidity and his ability to read people through their body language. However, it was still used in an unnecessarily excessive manner. So was the fact that in many scenes the story was told both visually and through the dialogue for further emphasis; which was again more than needed.
The difference between reality and imagination, what separates them and what guides each is the main theme in “The Blue Elephant”, which is directly emphasized in the last line of the very last shot of the film. “How to differentiate between reality and imagination? Imagination can sometimes be stronger and less awkward than reality, and make more sense: It’s a thin line and boundary between both.”