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Canuxploitation!

Mindfield

1989, Starring Michael Ironside, Lisa Langlois, Christopher Plummer, Stefan Wodoslawsky. Directed by Jean-Claude Lord.



In Quebec during the 1940s and 1950s, more than 1500 unadopted children living in Catholic orphanages were given false medical diagnoses and illegally interned in mental hospitals. Under former Premier Maurice Duplessis, the Quebec government was able to secure major federal funding for their care, and the children were exposed to atrocities including electroshock therapy, excessive medication, and lobotomy experiments. The test subjects have since become known as the Duplessis Orphans.

In 1957, only a few short years after the Duplessis incident, an American doctor named Ewen Cameron began experimenting with "psychic driving" at Allan Memorial Institute in Montreal. Using LSD, various paralytic drugs and electroshock therapy, Cameron believed he could erase existing memories and completely rebuild his patient's psyches. Allegedly funded by the CIA under their "MKULTRA" program, Cameron's atrocities have since been dramatized in the CBC TV film The Sleep Room.

When each of these violations came to light, they proved a distressing reminder of the "medical experiments" carried out in Germany under Nazi rule. Today the memories of these grim periods in Canadian history live on as a source of paranoia found in many Canadian movies, most notably in Quebec film. Movies like Leolo and Dans le Ventre du Dragon exploit audience fears of an uncaring government treating their citizens like laboratory rats, and this sentiment has seeped into several of David Cronenberg's films as well, manifested as foreboding and sinister medical buildings.

Although made for an Anglophone straight-to-video market, Quebec science-fiction director Jean Claude Lord's Mindfield also taps into the audience's lingering fears about the the Cameron and Duplessis incidents, focusing on a fictional story built around the MKULTRA brainwashing program. Mindfield stars Michael Ironside in a rare "good guy" role as a police detective fighting the mob and his own repressed electroshock memories.

Hard-boiled Kellen (Ironside) is hard at work organizing a police strike, but keeps getting distracted by vague flashbacks of the mysterious Dr Satorious (Plummer). At one union meeting he finds himself in a heated debate with Sarah, a civil rights lawyer who is currently trying a case against Dr Satorious. Sarah believes Satorious is using a combination of LSD and electroshock therapy to program people to kill, and then wipe their memories clean. Once Kellen reveals that he has been experiment on, Sarah asks him to testify. Kellen doesn't like the idea, but during a shared car ride home, they dubiously forget their past arguments and end up falling in love.

On the way, Sarah stops at a pharmacy to get a prescription filled while Kellen waits in the car. As she steps in the store, so does Bob Champlain (played by Harvey Atkin, voice of the Leon's commercials). Within minutes, four guys in ski masks break in and pull out their guns. When Kellen goes in to buy some cigarettes, he immediately realizes that the place is being robbed, and after another flashback, he pulls out his own gun and starts thinning out their ranks. The remaining crooks grab Bob as a hostage and drag him outside, demanding he tells them where "the key" is. Fearfully, Bob tells them it's in his safe, and is shot before the remaining thugs take off.

Kellen overhears this exchange, and when he gets to police headquarters he tells his Captain the robbery was merely a mob set-up to get Bob's key. He grabs his partner and they go down to Bob's office. Cracking his safe they find nothing but a huge stack of porn, but underneath the safe itself they stumble on a safe deposit key with a keychain from Erotim, a local sex shop. They visit the store, where the owner, a police informant, tells them about Bob's connections to Johnny, an area mobster. After a few more professionals with mob connections are found dead, Kellen decides to take some action. Johnny is resting casually in his hot tub when a disrobed Kellen stealthily slips in beside him. Instead of say, shooting him to death, Johnny decides that a naked cop in his hot tub shows some sort of twisted moxie, and reveals that Rudy, an American hitman unconnected to his operation killed Bob.

Posing as Bob, Kellen visits the bank and gets the contents of the safe deposit box a film of Dr Satorious making brainwashed electroshock patients shoot at targets. But upon watching it, Kellen recognizes himself as one of the subjects! When Rudy kills Kellen's partner with a car bomb, Kellen begins to see the extent of this government-sponsored conspiracy. After giving the incriminating film to Sarah for safe-keeping, he induces a flashback in himself by dropping acid. Stumbling into Satorious' lab, Kellen discovers a computer file which lists mind-control subjects/assassins, including Lee Harvey Oswald. Kellen confronts Satorious with this evidence, but is caught off guard when Rudy shows up. Rudy and Satorious strap Kellen into an electroshock machine in an attempt to erase the incriminating data from his memory, but Kellen manages to escape, and hightails it to Olympic Stadium for the Police Union meeting (remember that plotline?). He is the only one who can save Sarah and the film, exposing government mind control programs. But he still doesn't realize how far the conspiracy reaches.

One of the final Anglophone feature films Jean-Claude Lord made, Mindfield is ambitious in it's plotting, but needlessly confusing. Multiple storylines including the mob connections, the police strike, Satorious' trial and Johnny's prostitution ring muddy up the main thrust of the story and detract from Kellen's singular quest for answers and revenge. Not helping matters is the fact that Ironside is utterly unconvincing as a hero. Typecast as a villain for so long, including in Lord's other films, you keep expecting him to reveal some hidden evil intentions, or announce himself as the mastermind behind the whole plot. But even as an upstanding cop he still comes off as slimy and unlikable, which is a problem since the film relies on the audience to be sympathetic to the treatment Kellen received at the hands of Satorious.

Now in their 50s and 60s, the victims of Duplessis and Cameron have fought for their rights and called attention to these malicious experiments. In 1992, the Canadian government awarded a settlement to 76 Cameron victims, and the Duplessis Orphans have brought charges against the Quebec government for their own maltreatment. Despite their flaws, Canadian genre films like Jean-Claude Lord's Mindfield are truly Canuxploitation films, tapping into our distinctly Canadian fears and reminding us of the dangers of a Government with no value for it's populace.


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