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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've read the novel, but I haven't yet seen the film.

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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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