The Ninth Configuration

The Ninth Configuration ★★★½

Almost transcendent psychodrama comedy about inmates running the asylum for a long stretch there. But the second we find out Stacy Keach’s actual identity the movie switches gears hard and loses the ephemeral Altman-meets-Heller grasp it had on the human condition.

I’m mad at the sudden appearance of an utterly ridiculous queer-trending chaotic-evil biker gang. Not because it's painfully homophobic, it is, and not because the sequence isn’t stupid fun in its own right (it’s draaaaawn out tho), or that I don’t like ridiculous things, I do, but because it removes us completely from the strange gothic landscape replete with its mythical mist-hazed castle where the mad are finally allowed to, in fact, be mad.

The movie is impossible to completely slag on. It’s so thematically ambitious. I found the fascist imagery throughout (including Nazi regalia on some of the biker gang patches) fascinating when applied to the precarious ideas of military order, social control and sanity in the asylum.

It’s depiction of mental illness is, of course, very stupid, but as a delivery mechanism for absolute banger dialogue, it’s entertaining as hell (if you can step back from that sort of offense).

And its white supremacy imagery - a blackface performance watched over by Moses Gunn, a black man - and William Peter Blatty’s ever-present wrestling with the concept and purpose of God, a theme found in all of his work, makes this a hell of an ambitious, intangible, and mesmeric effort.

And then... and THEN... the realization early on that all of this is actually taking place in the same universe as THE EXORCIST - indicated by a statue of Pazuzu seen in the courtyard of the castle in this film and by the presence of an astronaut who has been told he will die in space - only makes the heart of the thing even more dense and almost impossible to unpack.

I mean, this flick really flirts with greatness. Also, a top tier movie poster that will only disappoint you if you let it.

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