Boxing Helena is a 1993 American film and the debut feature by Jennifer Chambers Lynch (XX), daughter of David Lynch (Twin Peaks; The Elephant Man; Eraserhead). It stars Julian Sands and Sherilyn Fenn as the eponymous Helena.
Nick Cavanaugh (Julian Sands) is a lonely Atlanta surgeon obsessed with a woman named Helena (Sherilyn Fenn). After she is injured in a grievous hit-and-run motor vehicle accident in front of his home, he kidnaps and treats her in his house surreptitiously, amputating both of her legs. Later, he amputates her healthy arms as well.
Though Helena is the victim of Nick’s kidnapping and mutilation, she dominates the dialogue with her constant ridiculing of him for all of his shortcomings.
After some time living together she becomes lonely and returns his affection.
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A legal battle ensued when first Madonna, then Kim Basinger backed out of the title role — eventually Basinger was the subject of an adverse jury verdict for over $8.1 million dollars. This caused Basinger to enter bankruptcy. The verdict was then set aside on appeal in 1994, but the actress later settled for $3.8 million. Few sensible people objected to either actress being replaced by Twin Peaks star Fenn (Madonna in particular would’ve been a spectacular case of miscasting).
However, the media critically mauled it on its release, the controversial theme and negative publicity surrounding the Basinger case ensuring that conservative critics and bandwagon jumpers had already made their minds up about the movie before seeing it.
“As it turns out, Ms. Lynch has both talent and a point … Presented instead as a macabre modern fairy tale, and staged in unexpectedly discreet style (under the circumstances), her Boxing Helena is at least as hypnotically peculiar as it is perverse. Kinky? Very definitely, since the film’s emphasis is on erotic fascination and not on disfigurement. Contemptuous of women? Well, no. Even without her arms, the cruel, beautiful Helena manages to hold all the cards.” New York Times
Cast and characters:
- Sherilyn Fenn as Helena
- Julian Sands as Doctor Nick Cavanaugh
- Bill Paxton as Ray O’Malley
- Kurtwood Smith as Doctor Alan Palmer
- Art Garfunkel as Doctor Lawrence Augustine
- Betsy Clark as Anne Garrett
- Nicolette Scorsese as Fantasy Lover/Nurse
- Meg Register as Marion Cavanaugh
- Bryan Smith as Russell
- Marla Levine as Patricia
- Kim Lentz as Nurse Diane
- Lloyd T. Williams as Sam the Clerk