In Keith Gordon’s The Singing Detective, re-imagined by Dennis Potter from his classic British miniseries, Dan Dark is a character who gives new meaning to the term “scars of childhood.” A hack writer of detective stories, he has suffered from psoriatic arthropathy, a crippling disease of the skin and bones, from the time he was eight-years-old. His latest and worst outbreak has landed him in the hospital where he deliriously tries to figure out who he is and how he got to this terrible place in his life.
As his fevered mind mingles real people with his fictional characters, and his past with his present, the film moves in and out of three worlds. There is the present day hospital where Dark is prodded by indifferent doctors and bossy nurses. As one of the bright spots in his bleak life, the kindly Nurse Mills (Katie Holmes) greases his sore body leading to an unexpected comic climax. As his condition grows more desperate, he is dispatched to the charge of the eccentric psychiatrist Dr. Gibbons (Mel Gibson). Initially reluctant to confront his tortured past, Dark is gradually lured out from the “cave in the rocks” under which his spirit has crawled.
Dark is visited in the hospital by his ex-wife (Robin Wright Penn), whom he fears his sleeping with a character from his past and conspiring to steal the screenplay he wrote years ago of his first novel, The Singing Detective. But nothing is exactly what it appears here.