The Ninth Configuration (1980)


Written and Directed by William Peter Blatty

Starring: Stacy Keach, Jason Miller, Scott Wilson, Ed Flanders, Robert Loggia

Tagline: Madness is a soldier’s last retreat.

Trivia: Budapest, Hungary served as substitute for the Pacific Northwest.

William Peter Blatty’s adaptation of his own novel Twinkle Twinkle, Killer Kane takes place at a mental hospital for Vietnam Veterans.  The novel and film weave seamlessly between the sacred and profane, comedy and tragedy. Watching The Ninth Configuration can be an exhausting and wearisome experience, but also a worthwhile one.  Blatty considered the film a sequel to The Exorcist in that it deals with the mystery of faith and why evil exists in the world.   Loosely structured with a cavalcade of memorable characters, The Ninth Configuration is one of most original American films of the past 50 years.

Stacy Keach stars as Col. Vincent Kane, a new psychiatrist at the institution. He wants to take a compassionate approach towards the unruly patients.  Jason Miller wants to direct a production of Hamlet starring dogs, along with his sidekick played by Joe Spinell.  Robert Loggia has multiple personality disorder.  Scott Wilson plays Cutshaw, a former astronaut who left the launch pad just before a lunar mission.  Ed Flanders plays a compassionate doctor, a rehearsal for his memorable part on St. Elsewhere.

The first half of the film is mostly devoid of story, instead audiences are greeted with non-sequiturs and clever visual gags.  The humor shifts between high and low, Looney Tunes meets Beckett.  The Gothic setting of the castle adds to the splendid absurdity of the characters.  There’s a serious undertone that gains momentum in the second half.  Despite all the laughs, they’ve seen the worst of humanity and they hide their true feelings by acting crazy.  They are in spiritual crisis, much like modern civilization.

The Ninth Configuration is not for everyone, a cult movie for the Post-Vietnam era.  A big come down for the Cold War generation, a clearing house for the anxieties of the past.




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