Tuesday, September 9, 2014
The Ninth Configuration
Those words are spoken by Colonel Vincent Kane, USMC, recently hired as Chief Psychiatrist at an old castle somewhere in the Pacific Northwest near the end of the Vietnam War. Basically an insane asylum, the castle has been set up by the United States government to treat military personnel who have gone off the deep end, or just seem to have. Kane (Stacy Keach) directs his apologia to resident Billy Cutshaw (Scott Wilson), who repeatedly challenges him to defend and justify his faith. To give just one example of the pure self sacrifice that Kane states is proof of human goodness, which in turn must be evidence of the Divine.
Kane, after attending a Catholic service with Billy, promises that should he die first, he will try to send something tangible to the young man to confirm that there is an afterlife.
Billy is an ex-astronaut whose career ended when he flipped out on the launching pad just before a mission. He explains later that he was deathly afraid of dying in deep space. Maybe because he would then be closer to God, in more ways than one. He perhaps masks his longing for faith with fits of insane behavior and mocking. But is he really insane? What about Kane? Someone who is revealed to be quite different than what he initially portrays. Watch out for the lengthy barroom confrontation near the end.
1980's THE NINTH CONFIGURATION, written and directed by William Peter Blatty, has long been one of my all time favorites. It is one of the most unique, quotable, and fascinating films I've seen. I could attempt to describe it, but there is no substitute for the experience. Admittedly, a disorienting one, at least for awhile. The earlier scenes have an anything goes, near zany, farcical bent. The merry band of madmen spout funny non sequiturs and fly around with jet packs. Wear superhero costumes. One character is obsessed with mounting an all dog production of Hamlet. Their lines are so rapid fire, so hysterical, and so cerebral at times that you'll easily have to watch this film three times just to catch everything. Three times isn't nearly enough, at least for this viewer.
Multiple viewings also allow an analysis of the more somber later passages, when Blatty gets down to business and gets to his main ideas. Deadly serious. There is a reason why he considers THE NINTH CONFIGURATION to be the true sequel to THE EXORCIST. I wonder what G.K. Chesterton would've thought of this film? I might go as far as saying it should be mandatory viewing for seminarians and theologians.
Some might feel the final moments of the film are too literal, maybe even a cop-out. I imagine agnostics and atheists will shake their heads. Maybe they're just not looking hard enough.