‘The Ninth Configuration,’ William Peter Blatty’s surreal meditation on religion, in addition to an ‘Exorcist’ pseudo sequel, nonetheless holds up 40 years later.
“Every thing A-OK there, spaceman?”
Present leisure tradition is uncontrolled. There was a degree when sequels have been inevitable for in style movies and possibly a beloved blockbuster would garner a prequel, however now these practices are merely a part of the norm. There are “legacy sequels” to properties like Honey, I Shrunk the Youngsters, Candyman, and The Mighty Geese occurring, which positively weren’t sequence that have been full of unresolved questions. On the similar time, prequel tasks are being designed round characters like Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Die Laborious’s John McClane, and Mr. Wing from Gremlins.
These days, if a franchise was ever remotely in style in some unspecified time in the future then that signifies that it principally qualifies to be trotted again out on show, normally with some tangential, manipulative connection to the unique franchise. Accordingly, a pseudo-sequel to The Exorcist that doesn’t comply with Regan or anybody linked to the Catholic Church, however somewhat that random astronaut that she shouts at for ten seconds on the MacNeil’s feast really sounds precisely just like the sort of money-driven nostalgia seize that will occur in at the moment’s local weather. And but, this concept occurred forty years in the past when this technical sequel to The Exorcist, written by the unique writer no much less, occurred to come back out just a few years after the precise Exorcist II.
The Ninth Configuration’s story, by way of plot factors, is extremely threadbare. The infamous Colonel Kane (Stacey Keach, in what is perhaps his finest work) will get stationed to change into the brand new navy psychiatrist at a very uncommon VFW middle stuffed with troubled veterans. Amongst them is Billy Cutshaw (Scott Wilson), an astronaut who’s caught in the midst of a disaster of religion that has results that ripple all through the middle and drive each Kane and Cutshaw to confront themselves and their values in surprising, difficult new methods.
William Peter Blatty‘s journey with The Ninth Configuration first started in 1966 when he revealed the novel, Twinkle Twinkle, “Killer” Kane! with the plans to show it into a movie he’d write and William Friedkin would direct. When no studios would take an opportunity on the mission, the potential movie languished and Blatty and Friedkin would as a substitute pivot to The Exorcist. Curiously, the expertise impressed Blatty to rewrite Twinkle Twinkle, “Killer” Kane! and switch Cutshaw into the astronaut from The Exorcist. Blatty would ultimately republish his novel in 1978 as The Ninth Configuration, which he then tried to seek out financing for and switch right into a function movie one final time.
William Peter Blatty didn’t direct many movies, however he put his all into each certainly one of his motion pictures. Blatty’s directorial debut, The Ninth Configuration, will not be his scariest piece of labor, but it surely does really feel like his purest and most genuine movie. The Ninth Configuration performs round with a number of sturdy concepts, but it surely’s actually the final word movie that pits science in opposition to faith (surpassing the heights of films like Contact or the more moderen First Reformed—which was coincidentally achieved by Paul Schrader, who dealt with Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist). It explores these extremes and the dissonance that’s attributable to the movie’s chaotic balancing act between cautious comedy and drama.
Very powerfully, The Ninth Configuration appears to straight deal with Regan’s warnings and theories from The Exorcist (“You’re gonna die up there!”), however in a justified means that helps the brand new concepts and themes of this movie via the prism of Cutshaw. The Exorcist suggests one of many loneliest fates is to be possessed by a demon and die like that, understanding that darkish forces exist, however that they’re additionally extra highly effective than God or his capacity to avoid wasting you. The Ninth Configuration takes this concept even additional and introduces to it the chilly, sterile neighborhood of outer area. Cutshaw’s biggest concern isn’t possession or to face a demon, however somewhat his information of the vacancy of the universe.
A world with out God or the next energy is miserable sufficient, however Cutshaw’s nightmare locations him alone on the moon with these ideas. He’s not simply bodily remoted, however he’s left on the loneliest place in existence as he’s left to ponder the world’s theological and religious vacancy. The addition of the final word image from Catholic religion, the crucifixion, turns this into an extremely bleak, highly effective picture. It doesn’t simply really feel like one thing from out of a Kubrick movie or Hideaki Anno anime, but it surely’s additionally arguably a extra evocative picture than something out of the unique Exorcist.
When Cutshaw is requested why he gained’t go to the moon, his response is among the most shifting monologues from the movie:
“As a result of I’m afraid…See the celebs…So chilly. To date. And so very lonely. Oh, so lonely. All that area. Simply, empty area. And so removed from dwelling. I’ve circled round and round this home. Orbit after orbit. And typically I’d marvel what it might be like by no means to cease. And circle alone up there perpetually. And what if I obtained there, obtained to the moon…and couldn’t get again? Certain, everybody dies. However I’m afraid to die alone so removed from dwelling. And if there’s no God, then that’s actually, actually alone.”
This shifting confession by Cutshaw is left for the ultimate fifteen minutes of the movie and never after his prophetic dream is first seen. Blatty desires this stark, sobering query to be what stays with the viewer because the credit (and existence) minimize to black. And though these last moments additionally try and show a real affirmation of God’s existence, when this follows so a lot absurdity, chaos, and doubt, it’s hardly an empowering message.
That is underscored even additional by the ultra-bleak ending the place it seems that this “good act of God” is definitely Cutshaw’s loss of life by his personal hand. Cutshaw is satisfied that the vacancy of the world is simply too heavy to tackle, however that his exit can assist encourage individuals like Kane to outlive and carry on combating. Regan’s message to Cutshaw all the best way again in The Exorcist comes true in spite of everything. Possibly she even noticed this conclusion for him.
On prime of those heavy ideas, The Ninth Configuration actually tries to get misplaced within the free-floating chaos and insanity of the VFWs. At instances the film critically seems like Full Metallic Jacket meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, however with the humorousness of Airplane! and directed by David Lynch. This culminates into an odd, uncomfortable hybrid of a movie, however one that desires you overwhelmed and delay by this schism of tones and types. Even the truth that the film is actually set in a fort, and never some typical VFW station, speaks to the gothic, extravagant nature of all of it.
The VFW fort in query is impossibly eerie and does in no way appear conducive to psychological rehabilitation. It’s secure to say that in this movie not one of the characters really feel like they’re in the correct place. Music is continually used to disorient or be anachronistic to additional the sensation of confusion and unease. There are frequent shut ups on gothic statues or horrid gargoyles, as in the event that they’re no totally different than the tortured souls which are caught in there who change into much less and fewer human.
These instincts are maybe most obvious within the movie’s intense pictures, that are a number of the craziest visuals you’ll see; they even handle to rival the insanity of Exorcist III’s extra lucid sequences. A personality will randomly trip a bike in or out of a constructing just for it to be not addressed in any respect. There’s Nazi roleplay, Shakespeare productions carried out solely by canines, individuals in superhero costumes, and what would possibly actually be probably the most stunning and claustrophobic bar combat that’s ever been dedicated to movie. It’s a film that truly makes you’re feeling such as you’re going loopy, at sure factors. Even the movie’s last picture is a joyful freeze body that’s simply so weird and feels tonally off from what comes earlier than it.
The visuals in The Ninth Configuration go far, however there are additionally so many highly effective, methodical monologues about humanity, religion, and loneliness. At instances the movie actually seems like an excellent miserable Samuel Beckett play that’s been filmed with the next finances and sometimes trippy results. A lot of the dialogue within the movie actually feels prefer it’s spoken in metaphors or simply anecdotal ramblings on subjects like PT Barnum or if ache makes turkeys noble because the viewers is left to attempt to determine what all of this implies. It’s a Magic Eye portray, however on your ears to suss the message out between the insanity. It’s such as you’re misplaced in a refrain of loopy individuals as you attempt to seek for the correct technique to the narrative.
At instances it’s nearly as if everyone seems to be performing in several motion pictures which have been stitched collectively via madness, which is the proper tone for this movie. This speaks to the extra grounded high quality of the fabric and the way it’s so dialogue-based as characters speak via their ache, analyze goals, and debate their varied traumas. Even the competent, sane characters give asides to skulls like they’re Shakespeare characters.
To go one step additional with that thread, Blatty makes the allusions to Shakespeare, particularly Hamlet (the scribe’s personal ode to psychological sickness), express with The Ninth Configuration. The movie even basically tells the viewers to undergo the identical expertise that one does when viewing Hamlet and to make use of their very own judgment as as to whether these characters are literally loopy or not. The truth is, sufficient time is spent on the trials and tribulations of the canines’ Shakespeare productions that they’re principally a secondary storyline and a significant concern for a lot of the major characters.
Since a lot of The Ninth Configuration revolves round corralling the VFWs and ensuring that everybody is steady, it’s deeply jarring when the movie briefly leaves the VFW middle. It’s like that bizarre second in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? when everybody quickly go away the home. It feels incorrect. What ought to be a liberating second makes the movie really feel much more trapped. The entire bar combat detour is such a weird non sequitur that resorts in probably the most bloodshed of all the movie and it’s a second that arguably doesn’t even have to be in there. It’d be like if in the midst of The Exorcist Father Karras and Father Merrin determined to exit for a beer after which obtained caught up in a ridiculous armed theft whereas they’re there, solely to brush all of it off as they head again dwelling later. It as soon as once more speaks to Blatty’s freewheeling instincts as a director.
The Ninth Configuration continues to really feel prefer it simply strikes via Blatty as a consequence of how all the allusions to different cinema that the movie makes weren’t scripted, however somewhat got here to Blatty whereas they have been filming. This speaks to how private and visceral this mission (and all of his novels) have been to him. At instances it seems like Blatty doesn’t know what he’s doing or that his directorial instincts are poor, but it surely additionally feels so instinctual and even when it doesn’t work, it nonetheless builds to the bigger image of chaos that Blatty desires to create. It’s precisely as a result of he has so little expertise as a director that he’s capable of deliver this private story to life in such an atypical means. I critically can’t think about how this movie would look if it was helmed by any different director.
Blatty could have needed Friedkin to sort out this at one level, however I don’t assume he would have elevated the fabric in almost the identical means. Quite a lot of the unusual, darkish humor would most likely be absent, for one. It’d most likely really feel like a way more typical film, which is precisely what this movie tries so arduous to keep away from. The Ninth Configuration feels deeply entwined in Blatty like he’s the one one who might make it. It’s in no way stunning to be taught that when studios have been involved about Blatty’s imaginative and prescient he resorted to co-financing the movie himself, with the assistance of PepsiCo, who have been actually simply fascinated with establishing extra factories in Budapest, Hungary. It’s extraordinarily weird that this movie about religion ended up having extra of an influence on a business smooth drink firm than the rest.
One of many last moments within the movie impressively reveals Kane quietly mirror and mourn, but it’s one of the crucial horrifying scenes within the film. Blatty performs with sound design and silence to create pure stress and make Kane really feel like he isn’t fully alone throughout this second of grief. Curiously, each Blatty’s The Ninth Configuration and The Exorcist III conclude with an older gentleman mourning the loss of life of his longtime good friend whereas their posthumous phrases are imagined to encourage hope. It’s a robust concept that these everlasting evils are so overwhelming that each tales have to take a significant life to assist present the opposite protagonist with their mandatory epiphany.
It’s value discussing that there’s an alternate edit of the movie that’s been launched that makes an attempt to credit score Cutshaw’s loss of life to accidents from the bikers on the bar. Not solely does Blatty not approve of this model of the movie, however this edit actually undercuts the message of Cutshaw crumbling to the load of the world. Unusually, many Exorcist productions have struggled with censorship and compelled edits that drastically change the story, however fortunately The Ninth Configuration’s message does get to dwell and hasn’t been erased.
The Ninth Configuration is undeniably an uncommon expertise, and if you happen to’re in search of a straight sequel to The Exorcist than that is inevitably going to disappoint. Nevertheless, by way of performing as a bleak extension of The Exorcist’s themes and a meditation on the darkish concepts that the movie introduces, The Ninth Configuration is a improbable companion piece. The movie provides a good richer and extra cosmic image to the bigger Exorcist mythos, if you happen to then select to look at the opposite movies afterwards. It expands on the fabric, with out breaking it, and for that it’s profitable. It’s simply a way more cerebral horror than what’s explored in any of the opposite movies within the sequence.
40 years later, in an more and more nihilistic world, The Ninth Configuration doesn’t simply maintain up, but it surely’s a movie that calls for much more of an viewers.