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Film / The Ninth Configuration

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Colonel Kane: You're convinced that God is dead because there's evil in the world.
Captain Cutshaw: Correct.
Colonel Kane: Then why don't you think He's alive because of the goodness in the world?

The Ninth Configuration is an obscure 1980 film directed by William Peter Blatty, based on his 1978 novel of the same name (itself a reworking of an earlier Blatty novel called Twinkle Twinkle, "Killer" Kane!). Despite being a confirmed Stealth Sequel to Blatty's The Exorcist, this story barely has anything to do with that film or its franchise. Instead, The Ninth Configuration is one Mind Screw of a character study about the patients of a military insane asylum housing troubled veterans from The Vietnam War.

The film centers on Colonel Hudson Kane (Stacy Keach), an Army psychiatrist and brother of a deranged Marine named Vincent "Killer" Kane. He takes over the asylum and meets eccentric patients such as Captain Billy Cutshaw (Scott Wilson), an astronaut who has been committed after a nervous breakdown. Kane begins having a series of nightmares related to his brother, leading everyone to wonder if he really is any saner than his wards. Then things take a turn for the weird.

Compare with Shutter Island.

This film provides examples of:

  • Ascended Extra: Word of God says that Captain Billy Cutshaw is the astronaut who was confronted by Regan in The Exorcist and was told that he would "die up there." The Ninth Configuration opens with Cutshaw suffering a nervous breakdown moments before a rocket launch, necessitating his stay at the asylum.
  • Asshole Victims: The bikers in the bar.
  • The Atoner: Colonel Vincent "Killer" Kane was a bloodthirsty Marine back in Vietnam, and Kane's guilt from his actions led him to assuming the identity of his psychiatrist brother in order to make a positive impact for a change.
  • Bedlam House: The Army's special mental asylum is a medieval-looking castle in the mountains.
  • Berserk Button: The previously stoic and calm Kane flies into a rage when Groper refuses to play along with his supposedly therapeutic re-enactment of The Great Escape (more generally, his rage was due to Groper's lack of compassion for the other patients combined with Kane's own struggles with his past).
  • Bittersweet Ending: Colonel Kane dies from the bar melee, but the inexplicable reappearance of Cutshaw's Saint Christopher medal suggests to Cutshaw that Kane has found peace in the afterlife.
  • Black Face: In one scene, Lieutenant Benish dresses up as Al Jolson (blackface and all) and lip syncs to a recording of "There's a Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder" as Major Nammack, a black senior officer, looks on with a combination of amusement and disgust.
  • Brick Joke: Lieutenant Benish has delusions of being in outer space and complains in one scene about not being able to find his flight pack, which Kane, humoring him, says will be returned. In a later scene, Kane winds up watching in bewilderment as a jet pack-wearing Benish goes whizzing by.
  • Bullying the Dragon: The patrons of a seedy biker bar decide that it's a good idea to mercilessly taunt and humiliate a pair of Marines. One of the Marines is Colonel Vincent "Killer" Kane, an unbalanced walking death machine from The Vietnam War. After suffering through monstrous indignities, he finally snaps and slaughters the entire gang of bikers, including the women, with his bare hands.
  • Canon Foreigner: Spinell was not in the novel nor the original script. Joe Spinell had begged writer and director William Peter Blatty, a close friend of his, to cast him in a small role as the sidekick to Lieutenant Reno. Since there was no part for Spinell in the movie, his character was given the same last name.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: The first half of the film is mostly farcical as Kane meets Cutshaw and the other patients at the asylum. The second half is much darker as it deals with themes of human suffering, sacrifice, and faith, as well as Kane's tormented past.
  • Character Overlap:Captain Billy Cutshaw is the same astronaut from the start of The Exorcist.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The biker gang seen on the road briefly near the beginning of the film show up again as antagonists at the climax.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Kane's super strong grip, which he later uses to crush a beer glass in the biker gang leader's hand.
  • Creator Cameo: Director and screenwriter William Peter Blatty briefly appears as an inmate who poses as a doctor.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: Kane's body is in this pose as Cutshaw carries it down the stairs.
  • Death Equals Redemption: Kane dies protecting Cutshaw from the bikers. This both redeems Kane for his atrocities in Vietnam and proves to Cutshaw that there is good in the world.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Subverted with Major Groper who verbally abuses the inmates in this way, accusing them of cowardice or faking. But the inmates pay him no mind, and scenes such as the one where he pleads with Kane not to be made to wear a Nazi uniform for the inmates' production of The Great Escape, however, indicate that he is as traumatized by his environs and is as close to breaking as anyone there.
  • Driven to Suicide: Kane in the original novel, but not in all cuts of the film.
  • Dr. Psych Patient: Colonel Psych Patient, actually, in the case of Kane.
    • A more comedic version is William Peter Blatty's cameo appearance as a hospital inmate posing as the staff medical doctor.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The bikers are visibly disgusted by and disappointed in what they perceive as Colonel Kane's abject cowardice, particularly when he agrees to beg and demeans himself by licking beer off the floor. Stanley didn't think that Kane or any other Marine would stoop so low when he told him to lick the beer:
    Stanley: (punching Kane in the back). That's for disgracing the uniform!
  • Foreshadowing
    • After Colonel Kane's nightmare (the one depicting the crucifix on the moon), he explains to Dr. Fell that the dream belonged to another person, his brother. Kane and his brother turn out to be one and the same.
    • During a theological debate with Cutshaw, Kane states his belief that acts of self-sacrifice are evidence of innate human goodness. Kane later proves this when he dies fighting the bikers who had harassed Cutshaw in the bar.
      • Kane also suggests a soldier throwing himself on a hand grenade as a perfect image of self-sacrifice. In the last paragraph of the original novel, we find that Maj. Groper — the most unsympathetic of the clinic's staff — has died doing exactly this, saving two lives, and earned a posthumous Medal of Honor.
    • Kane is given a tour of the asylum in the beginning of the film, only to discover that his "guide" is one of the patients. This foreshadows that Kane is himself a patient under the delusion that he's a doctor.
  • First Law of Tragicomedies: The film begins as a farce highlighting the absurd antics of the various inmates, but then the focus changes to the more serious theological and existential discussions between Kane and Cutshaw, eventually leading to the tragic reveal about Kane's background.
  • Go Among Mad People: The plot of the film (we think) concerns an Army psychologist who is sent to run an insane asylum for military personnel.
  • Heel–Face Turn: The film is basically one long, psychologically fraught one for "Killer" Kane.
  • Heel–Faith Turn: Captain Cutshaw by the end.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Kane.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Early on, Cutshaw takes the position that humans are only capable of cruelty to each other, and believes this means that God does not exist. Kane's Heroic Sacrifice and the mysterious reappearance of Cutshaw's St. Christopher medal cause him to change his mind at the end of the film.
  • Insistent Terminology: After one of Cutshaw's digressions on religion — he rants about the ugliness of the human foot, questions God's aesthetic taste in designing it, and wraps up by declaring that he now imagines God as a giant, repulsive foot — he begins compulsively replacing the word "God" with "foot" in conversation.
    Cutshaw: Can you prove there's a Foot?
  • Moral Myopia: Stan, the leader of the Chain Gang MC, forces Kane to denounce the Marines, and then beats him up for "disgracing the uniform".
  • Mortal Wound Reveal: After Colonel Kane saves Capt. Cutshaw from the bikers, Cutshaw carries the battered Kane back to the asylum wrapped in a blanket, but it isn't until he's alone that Kane lets the blood-stained knife drop to the floor and begins composing a farewell letter.
  • Mr. Imagination: Colonel Kane's dreams and odd behavior suggest that this may be happening to him. The truth is that Vincent Kane accidentally received a dispatch meant for his brother Hudson, assumed his brother's identity in order to escape the guilt of his actions in Vietnam by helping others, and — while helping to run the asylum — is also under observation as a patient.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Colonel Vincent "Killer" Kane, a psychotic Marine in Vietnam.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Kane is getting the stuffing beat out of him by a motorcycle gang when he remembers that he is not an Army shrink, but a deranged Marine called "Killer" Kane. Kane gets up and proceeds to deliver an epic, murderous unarmed beatdown to all the biker scum present.
  • Only Sane Man: Subverted and then averted with Colonel Kane.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The Chain Gang MC, possibly. While it's never made clear if they follow any fascist ideology, they wear Nazi Reichsadler patches on their vests, and a few of them wear Nazi helmets.
  • Post-Historical Trauma: The whole plot is driven by Kane's trauma and remorse over the things he did during The Vietnam War.
  • Product Placement: PepsiCo was the single largest investor in the film, and it's no coincidence Pepsi drinks are prominent in this movie.
  • Sad Clown: Cutshaw acts like the adult equivalent of the class clown around the officers and staff of the asylum, but his humor is just there to mask his despairing, nihilistic view of the world, and perhaps also his shame over his nervous breakdown aborting a NASA moon mission.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: In the novel, Major Groper returns to combat in Vietnam and is killed after he throws himself on a grenade to save the lives of several other men in his unit. In the film, we don't see Groper or hear anything about him after Kane's death, so there's nothing to suggest that he died.
  • Stealth Sequel: Word of God states that this film is the true sequel to The Exorcist. According to That Other Wiki, the astronaut in The Exorcist is Captain Cutshaw, who has a mental breakdown immediately before a rocket launch and is committed to the asylum where this film is set. The original novel repurposes several pieces of dialogue cut from The Exorcist.
  • Stock Scream: The bar fight is believed to be the first appearance of what would become known as the Howie scream.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Colonel Kane is actually his own supposed brother, "Killer" Kane. Dr. Fell is his real brother.
  • Thematic Series: Batty considers The Exorcist, this and The Exorcist III his "Faith Trilogy".
  • Title Drop: Kane's monologue during his dream sequence.
    Kane: In order for life to have appeared spontaneously on earth, there first had to be hundreds of millions of protein molecules of the ninth configuration.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Colonel Kane is "Killer" Kane.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Kane, during the bar fight, grabs one of the female biker's head by her hair, and then kills her by slamming her against the wall. The second one was more lucky, merely getting knocked unconscious, while a third who wisely retreated into a corner is left cowering and whimpering, but otherwise unharmed.


Video Example(s):


The Ninth Configuration (1980)

From 2016 remastered prints of said movie. Reupload in better quality and is also shorter. Here, the theme for the first two Lorimar logos plays over a dedication to Peter Vincent Galahad Blatty (R.I.P.).

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / Dedication

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