Where was The Cell filmed?
Bakersfield, San Diego, Namib Desert, Taft, Pomona
American, Naturescapes, Buildings/Offices, Hospitals/Medical
Desert, Foreign, Office Building Style
About The Cell
In his directorial debut, Tarsem Singh helmed the 2000 psychological thriller, The Cell. The science fiction film has a star-studded cast with Jennifer Lopez as Doctor Catherine Dean, Vincent D’Onofrio starring as Carl Rudolph Stargher, and Vince Vaughn as Agent Peter Novak.
The premise revolves around Dr. Dean, a child psychologist hired to work on an experimental virtual reality-based treatment for comatose patients. The device allows her to infiltrate her patients’ minds in an attempt to coax them out of their state of unconsciousness.
Doctors Miriam Kent (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) and Henry West (Dylan Baker) manage the medical device while the parents of Dean’s patient, Edward Baines, fund the technology. The young boy suffered a viral infection that sparked a rare form of schizophrenia, which in turn, left him in a comatose state. West and Kent aren’t keen on Dean’s suggestion to have her patient infiltrate her mind after the experiments fail to display any progress.
Meanwhile, Stargher, a serial killer, imprisons his victims in glass enclosures. Using an automatic timer, he fills up the tanks with water and submerges his victims. All the while, Stargher watches his victim’s gut-wrenching deaths by suspending himself over the glass tanks using a hoist. On top of it all, he records videos of his victims' deaths.
He soon succumbs to the same illness as Baines, just when the FBI has identified him. The problem is that in his comatose state, the FBI is unable to interrogate him and find out the whereabouts of his last victim, Julia Hickson. Agent Novak enlists the services of Dr. Deane to “mind hop” into the killer’s subconsciousness so that they can trace Hickson.
In the serial killer’s dark dreamscape, Deane interacts with a young Stargher. However, she gets imprisoned by the demonic idealization of the serial killer known as King Stargher.
The Cell Locations
Out of all film critics, Roger Ebert gave “The Cell” a big thumbs up. He rated it four out of four stars, describing it as a bizarre mix of sci-fi, mind games, pop psychology, and serial murders.
In Stargher’s “mind-linking world,” Deane encounters doll-like versions of the vile man’s victims. Even with mixed reviews, critics praised the film’s visuals, make-up and costumes, and direction.
It begs the question, where are the real-life filming locations of “The Cell?” Perhaps even more fascinating, the $33 million budget production spared no expense when it came to filming far and wide.
The production unit traversed different parts of the globe to conjure up the dreamscapes which undoubtedly made the film even more compelling. Some of the filming locations include Bakersfield, Namibia, Pomona, Taft, La Jolla, and San Diego.
There is lots more to unpack about Tarsem’s riveting psychological thriller. Without further ado, here are some of the best scenes in “The Cell” and details about where they were recorded.
The movie features several artistic influences inspired by the works of Damien Hirst, H.R. Giger, the Brothers Quay, and Odd Nerdrum. Perhaps even more disturbing, the “mind linking” device in the movie drew its inspiration from the intestinal crank. The device was a real-life medieval torture tool.
The opening scene in The Cell
Deadvlei, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namib desert
The movie opens with grains of sand dancing in the wind. The camera glides through a vast desert, and the cloud of dust soon reveals a horse and rider on the horizon. We are introduced to Dr. Deane in dreamscape form.
Soon, a flickering light catches her attention, and she dismounts the horse to examine it. Looking over her shoulder, an Arabian she saw morphs into a wooden hobby horse. She isn’t surprised and continues walking down the dune.
In a valley of dead trees, she meets Baines who is holding a small mirror. Dr. Deane tells him, “Thanks for the horse.”
The opening scenes were filmed at the Dead Vlei found within the Namib-Naukluft National Park in the Namib Desert. Located at Erongo, Namibia, the Dead Vlei is a clay pan surrounded by some of the world’s highest dunes.
The clay pan formed as an aftermath of flooding in the area. Camel thorn trees grew on the ground, but they died after drought hit the locale. Dunes encroached on the pan and blocked the waters of the Tsauchab River from reaching the area.
“The Cell” location has also hosted other productions like “Ghajini” and “The Fall.” Several tour companies offer guided trips to the Namib-Naukluft National Park.
Novak volunteers to enter Stargher’s scene in The Cell
Neurosciences Institute, 800 Silverado St #302, La Jolla, CA
When Deane gets trapped in Stargher’s mind, Novak volunteers to enter the serial killer’s mind so that he can help her regain herself. Kent asks him a series of questions before hooking him up to the machine.
Answering no to most of the questions, she tells him that he needs to be truthful even if his partner is in the room. Novak responds, “I am. I’m a pretty boring guy.” Once he enters Stargher’s mind, an almost similar fate befalls him.
King Stargher tortures him with Deane watching as one of his servants. After reminding her about her most painful memory, which was losing her younger brother in her college years, Dr. Deane is able to break free of King Stargher’s hold.
The laboratory scenes were filmed at the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, San Diego. Gerald M. Edelman, a Nobel Laureate, founded the NSI in 1981.
Originally located in New York, the nonprofit research organization moved its operations to San Diego. NSI focuses its efforts on learning more about the brain and using its findings to benefit mankind.
Novak rescues Hickson scene in The Cell
After snapping out of King Stargher’s mind-control state, Dr. Dean stabs him and frees Novak. The pair escapes and while fleeing, Novak catches a glimpse of a rendering of the glass enclosure. He notes that it bears similar insignia to the hoist seen in Stargher’s basement.
His partner, Agent Gordon Ramsey (Jake Weber), doesn’t take his word for it at first, saying that he can’t trust what he saw after being put under. Novak is convinced that he saw Hickson alive in the dreamscape. Ramsey responds, “you might have seen Jimmy Hoffa dancing with Timothy Leary, I don’t care.”
Investigations reveal that the government tasked Stargher to seal up the property in question after the former owner went bankrupt. Novak races to the location, find Hickson treading in dangerously high waters within the glass tank, and saves her by breaking the glass walls.
IMDB lists Taft, California as one of the filming locations of “The Cell.” Resting in the foothills of the San Joaquin Valley, at its southwestern edge, this Kern County city isn’t the most navigable place.
Google Map directions guide you to the town’s attractions via dirt roads, and when it rains, most of the roads are rendered impassible. The Temblor Reaction Area, located three miles Southwest, is the highlight of the city.
Novak and Ramsey convince Dr. Deane to enter Stargher’s mind scene in The Cell
Barcelona Pavilion, Av. Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia, 7, 08038 Barcelona, Spain
Novak and Ramsey drop by the Campbell Center to convince Dr. Deane to infiltrate Stargher’s mind. They play a video of one of the serial killer’s victims, and she has several questions and opinions about the matter.
She asks how sure they are that Stragher will reveal what they need to know. Novak says that there is a chance that he will confess. Dr. Deane explains that she doesn’t work with violent cases adding, “ I work with children, but even a kid lies. They love it when they get you to believe something that isn’t true.
Some sources list Barcelona Pavilion in Barcelona, Spain as the location where they filmed the “The Cell” scene. Lilly Reich and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe designed the Pavilion for the 1929 International Exposition held in Barcelona. It was demolished in 1930 and rebuilt in 1986.
Dr. Dean frees Stragher scene in The Cell
La Jolla, San Diego, CA
Touched by Young Stargher’s plight, after learning about his background with abuse, Dean reverses the system’s feed. That is after locking her colleagues out, and the feed allows Stargher to enter her mind.
The comforting haven she provides a Young Stargher is quickly torn apart by King Stargher's influence. King Stargher, in a scaly snake-man form, invades Deane’s mind but she doesn’t lose control. She beats him to a bloody pulp before eventually impaling him.
Young Stargher displays similar injuries, and Dean realizes that killing one means the other dies. Adult Stargher reminds Dean about the bird story and pleads that she saves him.
To put the Young Stargher out of his misery, the Adult Stargher carries him into a pool, and tells Dr. Deane, “thank you, Catherine. You did help me. More than you’ll ever know.
La Jolla, San Diego is another “The Cell” location listed on IMDB. Beaches and ocean bluffs surround three sides of the hilly, seaside neighborhood. Some of its highlights include the Torrey Pines Golf Course, Museum of Contemporary Art – La Jolla, and the annual La Jolla Concours d'Elegance.
Dr. Reid diagnoses Stargher scene in The Cell
Linda Vista Hospital, 610 South Street Louis Street
At the Kern County Hospital, Ramsey, Novak, and Teddy Lee (James Gammon) watch as Dr. Milton Reid (Pruitt Taylor Vince) examines Stargher. He says that there is minimal activity in the serial killer’s dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
Ramsey asks, “what the hell does that mean?” Dr. Reid responds that Stargher is schizophrenic. Thinking that it paves the way for an insanity defense, Novak pitches a fit. Reid assured him that there won’t be a trial because Stragher is in a coma.
The hospital scenes were filmed at the Linda Vista Hospital at 610 S. St. Louis Street, Los Angeles. Built to serve the Santa Fe Railroad employees, the medical facility shut its doors in 1991.
It then became a popular filming location and the subject of widespread paranormal investigations. Besides hosting “The Cell” production unit, other films shot at the medical institution include “Fatal Beauty,” “Pearl Harbor,” and “Insidious: Chapter 3.” The hospital exchanged ownership in 2011 and started functioning as a senior living facility.
It is agreeable that you are spoiled for choice if you choose to go on a tour inspired by the filming locations of “The Cell.” Even better, there is a sequel to the movie, if you haven’t watched it already.
“The Cell 2” is a direct-to-DVD sequel to the psychological thriller released in 2009. It centers on a serial killer dubbed The Cusp, who murders his victims only to resurrect them in a “Groundhogs Day” type of format.
He continues with the torture until his victims beg to die. A psychic investigator called Maya (Tessie Santiago) is one of the serial killer’s surviving victims. Her abilities took shape in the year that she spent in a coma. She resorts to using her psychic powers as a gateway into The Cusp’s mind so that she can save his current victim.