MK Ultra Parent Guide
From an unpromising start, this movie is quickly overwhelmed by an avalanche of problems that make it almost unwatchable.
Parent Movie Review
Although his research proposal has been rejected by the hospital which employs him, psychiatrist Dr. Ford Strauss (Anson Mount) soon finds a new sponsor for his work: The CIA. Agent Galvin Morgan (Jason Patric) offers to fund his studies into the uses of hallucinogens to alter behaviour on the condition that he will turn over all his research materials to the CIA and never reveal his funding source. Under the watchful eye of Agent Morgan’s partner, the laconic Townsend (Alon Aboutboul), Dr. Strauss gets the project underway, starting with a broad array of patients. But as the testing goes on, the results are not quite what he anticipated and working for the CIA raises some very uncomfortable questions…
I’m not sure where to start with MK Ultra. The cinematic technique isn’t excruciating – this isn’t Virus Shark or anything – and some of the shots even manage to look pretty good. This small bright spot is completely buried under an avalanche of catastrophic problems that make the movie almost unwatchable. To start with, the opening title card has managed to spell “relation” as “realation” which is so thoroughly not a word that Microsoft just made me type it out twice. That’s the kind of detail that makes you wonder if you are the first person to watch the film since the editor threw his hands up in the air and flung himself into the sea.
The problems don’t end there, of course. This film ranks somewhere around Braveheart for historical accuracy. Yes, MK Ultra was a real CIA program which involved testing hallucinogens on frequently unwitting individuals, yes, they did research into mind control. Not only does this production misrepresent the scope and nature of the program, but its characters are so unrealistic and their behaviour so increasingly unmotivated that the film veers completely into madness. I was willing to buy CIA agents recreationally torturing random homeless people in an abandoned movie theater, but then the film began to randomly cut to scenes involving what I can only assume are agents wearing SS uniforms and speaking with horrific German accents as part of a mind control program for a character so trivial that he is in three scenes. There is so little coherence here that I wonder if the movie has been designed for people who are actually taking hallucinogens while watching.
Don’t even get me started on the dizzying array of content concerns. When he’s not dosing strangers with pharmaceutical-grade LSD, our hero spends his time drinking and smoking weed, having graphic sex with his wife, and, on one occasion, smoking something I’m pretty sure is supposed to be opium. The CIA agents spend half their time having sex with prostitutes and drugging them for “research”, torturing people, and occasionally snorting cocaine. On top of all that, there are several scenes of graphic violence, including a depiction of a leucotomy, which for reasons best known to the filmmakers, involved cutting out a chunk of the top of the patient’s skull instead of following any actual method of lobotomy. Oh, and there are also a few stabbings, shootings, and some extremely unpleasant burns. Look, there are easier and less unpleasant ways to learn about CIA misconduct than subjecting yourself to this. Frankly, reading the Wikipedia page is far more interesting than sitting through his bizarre journey into complete incomprehensibility.Directed by Joseph Sorrentino. Starring Anson Mount, Jaime Ray Newman, Jason Patric. Running time: 98 minutes. Theatrical release October 7, 2022. Updated October 8, 2022
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Rating & Content Info
Why is MK Ultra rated Not Rated? MK Ultra is rated Not Rated by the MPAA
Violence: People are beaten, tortured, stabbed, shot, and burned. An individual is seen undergoing electroconvulsive therapy and has part of his skull removed as part of a lobotomy.
Sexual Content: There are frequent scenes of sexual behaviour, all of which feature female toplessness and extremely suggestive activity. A man is seen fully nude in the context of torture. There are references to animal abuse.
Profanity: There are 23 sexual expletives, four scatological curses, and occasional use of mild swears and terms of deity in the script.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Adult characters are seen drinking alcohol, taking LSD, snorting cocaine, and smoking cigarettes, marijuana, and opium.
Page last updated October 8, 2022
MK Ultra Parents' Guide
What happened as part of the MKULTRA program? Were these activities limited to the United States? Which other countries were involved? What were some of the immediate consequences of the program? What about long-term consequences? What did intelligence agencies hope to accomplish by this?
The film depicts torture as part of CIA operations. How have the CIA been linked to torture more recently? Is that still occurring? What is meant by the phrase “enhanced interrogation”? How has the government responded to the evidence of the CIA’s involvement in torture?
Wikipedia: Enhanced interrogation techniques
The New York Times: What the CIA’s Torture Program Looked Like to the Tortured (graphic content)
The Guardian: Inside the CIA’s black site torture room (graphic detail)
Related home video titles:
If you’re interested in films which more ably report on government misbehavior, try The Report, Official Secrets, The Post, Mark Felt, Snowden, or evenAmerican Made. You might also enjoy the documentaries Have a Good Trip, about individual experiences with LSD, or Crack: Cocaine, Corruption, & Conspiracy, about the crack epidemic in the US and its potential basis in CIA operations.