The Ninth Configuration is a psychological drama written and directed by William Peter Blatty, based on his novel. The movie is an exercise in surrealism and Blatty’s treatise on religious faith. Released in 1980, The Ninth Configuration is the perfect example of seventies movie making, where serious (and original) themes were allowed to be explored without compromise or studio interference.
The plot centres around a mental asylum housed in a remote castle where the inmates are mostly casualties of the Vietnam War. A psychiatrist, Colonel Kane (Stacy Keach) is brought in to rehabilitate the patients and Kane’s grand plan is to let the inmates act out their craziest fantasies and desires.
The first half of the movie is hard going and basically a comic farce, where it seems that the insane are running the asylum. In particular, one Captain Cutshaw (Scott Miller) – a former astronaut who bailed from a moon trip – challenges Colonel Kane’s moral authority, with prolonged discussions on the existence of God and the nature of good and evil.
Then, the movie seems to spin on a dime as a plot twist is revealed which changes the entire narrative thrust. From that moment onwards, the movie takes on a much darker tone, especially in an extended scene when Cutshaw and Kane are bullied by a biker gang in a nearby bar.
Suffice to say, the resolution of this conflict is unexpected but satisfying, wrapping up the story nicely with a surprisingly concrete ending that fits in the general vibe of most seventies movies.
If that all sounds cryptic, well, I really would like you dear reader to watch the movie for yourself and find out what happens. While that first half seems to go nowhere plot-wise, the second half certainly makes up for that seeming pointlessness.
Thought-provoking and unflinching in its address of serious themes, The Ninth Configuration deserves its cult classic status and for those in the know, is thoroughly worth the time and effort.
… still there’s more …