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Nick Alexander

The Ninth Configuration (1980)

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This aired on TCM this past week; I DVR'd it and finally caught up with it.

The Ninth Configuration is the directorial debut of William Peter Blatty, working off his own script.  This was a loose follow-up story to The Exorcist (which he wrote), except it follows the exploits of an astronaut (Scott Wilson, lately seen as Herschel in The Walking Dead) who appeared in the beginning of that former film (he was told by Regan, in an early scene, that he was going to "die up there.").  In the opening moments of this film, he abandons his mission to the moon moments before takeoff, and is taken to a crazy ward in the Pacific Northwest (the film was actually filmed in Hungary).

He meets with the new psychiatrist, played by Stacey Keach, who's an extremely devout Catholic.  Their conversations about faith take up a sizable part of the movie's running time, with Keach demonstrating an impartial, Jesuit approach to therapy, while Wilson chews the scenery resisting in every way possible.

And that's just one storyline thread.  Blatty includes storylines that hearken to his "A Shot In the Dark" era, complete with punchlines, sight gags, and a patient staging an all canine-version of Hamlet.  

I would say part of the movie's failure is also why I am chomping at the bit to see it again.  It is a "comedy drama", only that the comedy is waaaay out there, and the drama has so much importance at stake.  There is a twist ending, and there is an extremely tense bar-room fight sequence late in the movie.  And each of these elements, on their own, work on their own terms, with excellent acting (and overacting... and underacting).  Put together, it's like eating Salsa Ice Cream.  But it demands a second viewing, just because the twist changes the game substantially.

In all fairness to this board, this movie is a rare find, and not many people have clamored to watch it for themselves.  But on the basis of some extremely significant visuals, and on the basis of many significant dialogue scenes (including explaining the title), this film should have been listed in any Arts & Faith 100 listing, near the very top.

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I watched the film on YouTube years ago but would need to see it again before I could say much about it.

FWIW, links to our threads on The Exorcist (1973) and Shutter Island (2010), the latter of which reportedly has some similarities to The Ninth Configuration.

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Shortly after I saw it, I listened to The Projection Booth podcast, where all three members were quite enthusiastic over the film.  It helped detail for me what I had missed in my first screening.   projection-booth.blogspot.com/2017/05/episode-323-ninth-configuration-1980.html

 

 

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Scott Wilson has passed away.  He was a character actor who had been in movies since the 1960s (In Cold Blood) and most recently held a recurring role in The Walking Dead TV series.

However, it was in The Ninth Configuration that he had garnered his highest acclaim, garnering a nomination for Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor (1980).  He played an astronaut who suffered a mental breakdown after he abandoned his mission moments before takeoff.  The movie is a faith-based psychological drama/comedy/mystery/thriller hybrid where his character has the greatest transformation over the course of the story, the one who challenges the belief in a loving God the strongest.  His performance was wonderful to behold.

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I finally saw this film this past spring (during Lent) and immediately fell in love with it. So, despite have seen the first couple seasons of The Walking Dead, it was The Ninth Configuration that I first thought of when I heard of Scott Wilson's passing. I want to revisit this film now (I saw it on the streaming service MUBI, so I don't have a Blu-ray/DVD copy of my own). It really is wonderful. I had this to say about it when I watched it in the spring.

Quote

 

"an existential, Catholic-minded grappling with the seeming chasm between the evil of the world, especially the evil that we do, and the madness of a story that suggests God might still speak in it.

...

The Ninth Configuration thematically answers the possibility of goodness and redemption through action. In this sense, the film is a Christological drama, consciously suggesting that even as the old guarantee of the Cross may seem foolish to many, it is in the “roles” we play that we find redemption, and that seems to be how Blatty understands the idea of “Christ in us.”

 

https://3brothersfilm.com/blog/2018/3/30/review-the-ninth-configuration-1980

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