The late Pauline Kael once dismissed the British sci-fi film The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970) with the descriptor "dreary," which seems, frankly, a bit uncharitable.
I much prefer the reading of New York Magazine's critic, who noted (on November 2, 1970), that the Alan Cooke film represents "top grade" science fiction and features a "superb" performance by Terence Stamp.
Indeed, this is very much how I view the film.
But even New York's description is merely the tip of the ice-berg. The Mind of Mr. Soames is a thoughtful, intense, and deeply sad film about human nature.
To its credit, The Mind of Mr. Soames works simultaneously on two fronts regarding that theme.
In the first case, the film explores the character of a grown man -- Soames (Stamp) -- who has been asleep in a coma his whole life, and has therefore never known love, or any social connection at all, for that matter. He awakens as a child in a man's body, and is "educated" by two very different parents: a cruel, stern doctor, and a permissive, loving, but often absent one.
Secondly, The Mind of Mr. Soames revolves around the social value (or lack of said value..) of the press: 20th century television, newspapers and other mass-communications. Upon Soames' awakening from his coma, a camera crew follows him everywhere, and the masses get to vicariously experience his every success, his every failure. His permission is never sought.
In this case, we must wonder if those of us raised in "civilization" actually possess the quality of empathy, or, rather, simply like to watch the suffering of others as our entertainment.
So poor Mr. Soames can't be whole without the tutelage of society, nor can be accepted in a cruel, fast-moving, technological world of little surprisingly little empathy. He is, simply, damned twice.
The Mind of Mr. Soames may "drag in spots" and be "occasionally self-conscious," like the authors of Twenty All-Time Great Science Fiction Films note (Arlington House; 1982), but I prefer to see this work of art in another way.
It's a genre classic from a more patient, more cerebral age.
At England's Midland Research Institute, Dr. Maitland (Nigel Davenport) and a brilliant surgeon, Dr. Bergen (Robert Vaughn) embark upon a unique experiment. John Soames (Terence Stamp) has been in a coma since birth, and never once opened his eyes.
Maitland enrolls the grown “baby” into a rigorous instructional program, attempting to teach him all the knowledge and important lessons of life in a mere six weeks.
There, outside the hospital, Soames is gazed upon with fear and disdain. He realizes, even in his arrested emotional state, that he doesn't belong there.
Soames is always separated from others. He is always alone. At a distance. He can never belong.
A near-identical shot repeats near the climax, when Soames is seen posed behind the guard-rails of a busy road-way. These shots and angles indicate that John is eternally isolated from other people because of his odd life, because he has been raised, essentially, in a petri dish.
Maitland believes that knowledge and practice are enough to make a social outcast a functioning part of society. What Soames proves, however, is that life is to be lived. You can't make up with lessons in six weeks the experience of having a family, the experience of growing up. Or, perhaps most importantly, the experience of being loved.
His fifteen minutes of fame start, essentially, at birth...
And if any film ever deserved a sequel, it’s this one. It would be an incredible thing to revisit Mr. Soames after he has spent thirty years trying to assimilate, trying to conform to a society that so clearly and abundantly derides him and his “alien” nature.
Furthermore, Soames is never adequately socialized in the film, and never really connects to anybody, because Maitland expressively forbids it. This approach seems highly unrealistic today, since we understand much more about what children need to mature in a healthy fashion.
So if Maitland has failed to provide Soames an adequate mother, society has failed too to provide a nurturing community around him in which he is free to fail, and free to learn.
Traditionally, however, a father who does anything “extra” for his children tends to be lauded by society, because expectations for his investiture of time and energy tend to be much lower. Once more, then, the film has something to say about parenting, and about how society sees parents. Bergen is a better man than Maitland, but we expect him to do even better because he knows and understands what it means to have a family.
So many science fiction movies concern identity, and the things that make us who we are. The Mind of Mr. Soames suggests, likewise, that if socialization is absent from a child's upbringing, no amount of "learning" can make up for the deficit.