On paper, Paul Schrader's mind-meltingly odd new film, Adam Resurrected, sounds disconcertingly like The Day The Clown Cried, the notorious unreleased Jerry Lewis monstrosity about a clown who leads children into the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Actually, to give Schrader and co-conspirator Jeff Goldblum full credit for their lunatic ambition, Adam may be even crazier than Lewis' comedy-drama; for all its surreal bad taste, Clown probably doesn't feature a protagonist with psychic gifts, a burning bush in the Israeli desert, and a feral wolf-boy who forms a strong emotional bond with a man who lived extensively in the role of a dog in a concentration camp. Yes, Resurrected has the potential to be not just awful, but a crime against cinema, taste, and solid judgment. Not being offensively terrible consequently counts as one of the film's strongest virtues.
In a stunning lead performance, Goldblum stars as a brilliant, apolitical jester whose wife and family end up in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. Goldblum survives by reluctantly agreeing to act as the pet dog of warped fan Willem Dafoe, a Nazi officer who remembers Goldblum's pre-camp fame and exploits his gift for physical comedy in the creepiest manner imaginable. After the war, Goldblum lives in an Israeli mental hospital for Holocaust survivors, where he carries on a sordid affair with one of the nurses and becomes a curious father figure to a dog-boy who blossoms under his tutelage.
Adam Resurrected is filled with the kind of quirky novelistic conceits that tend to kill on the page, yet die embarrassing deaths onscreen. Unsurprisingly, Resurrected is based on a novel: Yoram Kaniuk's 1968 book of the same name. Goldblum's simultaneously subhuman and superhuman madman quasi-messiah is a financial genius who's irresistible to women, reads minds, can make himself bleed, and is haunted ineffably by demons he can't begin to fathom, let alone control. Yet Goldblum sells this wildly theatrical character through sheer magnetism. The otherworldly nature of his restless, nervous charisma has seldom been put to better use. Even when it flies off the rails deep into its third act, Resurrected remains strangely hypnotic. Though Schrader and Goldblum have transformed Kaniuk's book into a film as insane as any of its characters, its source material somehow retains its air of unfilmability. That's just one of this film's many strange paradoxes.