"In this section of the film, [the Space Girl's] modus operandi is wryly spelled out to us via the twist about the girl's multiple body-jumps, which imply another wild equalization of human interaction if we map exactly the space girl's peculiar path through bodies, bodies which must have interacted for the passing to occur..."
- "Converging of Elements..." Part 1
The convolutions of the Space Girl's body-jumping within the confines of the mental hospital may be confusing at first, but with some dot-connecting, a set of suggestive implications becomes increasingly clear, while the internal logic behind both the Space Girl's body-jumping and Carlsen's psychic reach with anyone who was possessed by her is established. O'Bannon's screenplay wryly does not cut corners, presenting each methodical continuity in Carlsen's tracking down of the Space Girl, from the interrogation to the fomenting mental deduction, to the calculation, decision-arriving, and eventual subterfuge taken in order to bait the director of the hospital. Meanwhile Hooper treats such careful narrative aloofness with the aloof sophistication of his observant, continuity-driven camera, catching onto "exquisite aloofness" (the dialectic is in the paradox, no? A dialectic of roiling emotions and secretive, behind-closed-doors commingling set against the coolness - the seeming aloofness - of our public carriages...) through knowing performances, and ones sculpted by his very dialectical staging, which is a bastion of Hooper's sophistication and elegance as a filmmaker.
How much do we know of ourselves? Or is it actually: how much of ourselves can we actually distinguish as ourselves? "You're in there, aren't you?" "I don't know."
When Head of a Mental Hospital Doctor Armstrong lapses into insanity after he has been found out to be host of the Space Girl (but what's to prefigure his insanity as that of the Space Girl's?), his screams are joined by the chorus of his inmates, over which, being inherently posed as master, he prevaricates being of a superior, "sound mind." It is at this point Sir Percy mutters: "It's madness."
All of this sort of makes Lifeforce the sci-fi-blockbuster sister film to Gaspar Noe's Irreversible - also about cycles of life and civilized order broken by the calamities of our brinkless biology and life-eliminating destruction. Both films depict cycles, both films begin in places reminiscent of our bodily canals, then, circling around themselves, end right back where they started, with portraits of natal renewal (Irreversible's spinning womb-like camera obscura, Lifeforce's macro reproductive reenactment). (2001: A Space Odyssey is of course the granddaddy.)
From Lifeforce to The Funhouse to Night Terrors, Hooper is in the habit of showing off a great reserve of broad-mindedness within him. If it is not outward agenda, it is Hooper simply allotting his magnitude of cinematic sensitivity to a boundless set of characters, with his textured, abstractly-forming mind. Gladly he accepts inchoate, sexually curious girls as his protagonists in The Funhouse and Night Terrors, and has them center in cinematic scenes that show off a non-simplistic range of their alternating wisdom and haplessness. In Lifeforce, our sexual lives are the burden of everyone and ourselves: the righteous and the unrighteous, the powered and the little-powered, the voyeur and the viewed - all depicted as mostly calamitous, but the film is wide in view enough to include "true love" in its entropic and deadly depiction of energy-pooling ("true love" exists here only in one possible incarnation: Carlsen and the Space Girl, ironically the film's leaders in destructive consummation).
Not even the voyeur is unscathed. For instance, the interrogation scene shows the no-nonsense military man with his guard finally and endearingly down, in one of the most delightful moments of acting and editing in the film - Caine's reaction to Carlsen's ripping off of Nurse Donaldson's robe:
After a kiss that leaves both sides of it debilitated (and then a gentle putting-to-bed), Carlsen explains exactly what he got out of their intense encounter/exchange:
The physical description is of Jeffrey Sykes, the child murderer (and so Lifeforce references Lang and M - Kubrick and 2001's granddaddy, one can say conceivably, and another measured portrait of impulses and life cycle, from the innocent child to the ravaged or corrupt adult, then back again with the cautionary words of grieving mothers).
Seeing as we have just discovered Nurse Donaldson gave up the description of Jeffrey Sykes to Carlsen, then it must be believed that Donaldson "seduced" Sykes, the overweight serial killer with the mind of a five-year-old. Certainly corroborative of an unpredictable, entropic, designation-free world of attraction.
But one thing that has been established by the film early on is the nature of the energy exchanges, as we have been privileged to see it in action twice now. In both cases, there was always some degree of "mutual engagement" when an energy exchange occurs, whether this manifests in an outright seduction or the seduction/hypnosis/entreaty of a more underlying attraction. This suggests, even of the Space Girl, that "seduction," in whatever form, must happen before any energy collecting can be done.
From Jeffrey Sykes, the Space Girl finds its way to Doctor Armstrong, and the implication is clear: what sort of doctor-patient relationship is occurring that is strong enough of a psycho-sexual conduit to allow for the seduction/hypnosis that occurs between Sykes and Armstrong? Beyond claiming outright sexual feelings existing between these two characters, it could be as symbolic and metaphorical as equating the power relationship between a head of a mental institute and his inmate as of a sexual shade: a veritable sadomasochistic Dr. Caligari, tying him in a straight-jacket and sending him to solitary confinement - for being "naughty."
The drier deliberations occur back in Hooper's dry master shot, which one time re-forms the character figuration for a reassessment of character dynamic, then dryly allows for their exit:
It is, of course, as it is explicitly stated later, this pat on the shoulder by Armstrong that allows Carlsen to see into Armstrong's mind and sense the presence of the Space Girl.
Call it saving the surprise for later, but this entire sequence - all these scenes leading up to, and including, Armstrong's subduing - is the pinnacle of ironic restraint. Nothing is given away. No details dramatically telegraphed, the staging remaining brilliantly dry and matter-of-fact ("matter-of-vision"!). And also, for instance, we won't hear a single peep from Henry Mancini's score for a good while, even as the chaos finally breaks loose - not until things get truly personal again: when the Space Girl goes face to face with Carlsen, speaking through Armstrong on the patient table.
For now, it's all deliberations, it's all silent mental deducing, it's all witty performances and the jointly calculated visual design.
A tracking corridor shot is an all-important bridge of mundane continuity, musically leading up to the conversation's climax in a posh, civilized-looking study.
The fine line between the hidden from view and the not hidden is contained in this single take shot, which seamlessly and musically picks up exactly from the previous shot, then observes the entire counterpoint between the two sets of pairs (Armstrong speaking to Sir Percy, Carlsen's secret communication with Caine, which is both hidden and not hidden) within its uninterrupted frame:
It's another pristine moving master shot: observant, "exquisitely aloof," witty, dialectical. Begins with movement, arrives at a stasis, then ends with movement.
Two last formal, ordered aggregations of the men occur before insanity breaks loose the film. The last one occurs as they gather around Sykes inside his room. The one before that, which occurs outside Jeffrey Sykes's room, is the most notable, though. As they prepare the sedative for Sykes, Hooper's adept staging has Carlsen placed apart from the other men, and so the shot devoted to him becomes incredibly purposed. Indeed, it is a graphically rich depiction of internal state, with a row of overhead lamps existing behind Carlsen, trailing off into the distance to behind tall iron gates - a perfect metaphor for the trailing illuminations (and guarded gates) of the human mind:
I'm often disappointed by the disparagement that many direct toward Railsback and his performance, for I find him constantly pitch perfect throughout the film. He finds exactly what Hooper and the story need from him at every moment, from convulsive, uncontrollable, nauseous hysteria, to nauseous, dulled-out mental stupor (seen above), to caustic, fatalistic, nauseous deadpanning when reluctantly taking on the hero role.