"Boxing Helena" is a 1993 drama and psychological horror film with aspects of surrealism and black comedy, whose intrinsic value as a film is usually overshadowed by the external history of the film's production. Would-be star Kim Bassinger dropped out of filming due to concern with the movie's content, leading to a lawsuit and production delays. The movie was also the directorial debut of Jennifer Lynch, only 25 at the time of the movie's release. As the daughter of acclaimed director David Lynch, there were high expectations placed on the film, and the movie's commercial and critical failure led to the disruption of her career.
The plot of the movie tells the story of Nick Cavanaugh (Julian Sands), a young, successful and talented surgeon who also has lots of inherited money and a very attractive girlfriend, but who is strung up with oedipedal issues from a neglectful mother, and has channeled his neurosis into an obsession with Helena (Sherilyn Fenn), a neighboring woman who he had a short-lived relationship with, but continues to stalk. When an accident leaves Helena helpless near Nick, he operates on her, amputating her legs to save her life, but also kidnapping her and keeping her captive in his mansion. While he continues to try to "care" for her, she returns his "affection" with justified abuse and anger. Since she continues to resist, he then amputates her arms as well, trying to transform her into someone who can not reject him.
This is, obviously, a strong film with some very difficult themes. It is bizarre and grotesque and touches on some psychologically fraught territory. Perhaps it says something about what the internet has done for us all, but while very controversial when it was released, I found the sex and violence to both be tastefully done, considering. If the film was taken as a conventional drama, then the violence of the plot would be repulsive. But taken as a surreal story of psychological horror, the movie does what it needs to communicate the stunted psychology of Nick Cavanaugh. It also might be problematic that the movie doesn't explicitly make him a villain: by showing him as a sympathetic, pathetic and even comedic character, the movie might not make it clear that kidnapping and mutilating women is wrong. But the film certainly does communicate that, through less obvious ways. This is an art film, not a Lifetime Original Movie, and it manages to communicate the horrificness of what is going on without turning Cavanaugh into a slobbering monster.
While there are some artistic complications, there is nothing terribly technically wrong with the movie. The cinematography, pacing and plotting are all technically well done. The one problem is that several characters who are brought in at the movie's normal beginning, including Lawrence, Nick's best friend, who is played by Art Garfunkel, disappear from the plot as the movie continues. But overall, it shows competent direction. The problem was that while Jennifer Lynch's direction would have been considered quite good for someone making an experimental film or a student film, the expectations placed on her were too high, and when the film had problems, it was seen as more of a failure than it was.