THE NINTH CONFIGURATION. Spiritual continuation to The Exorcist
In cinemas, The Exorcist: Believer, another unnecessary installment in the series, so it’s worth revisiting the directorial debut of the author of the novel on which William Friedkin’s 1973 film was based. Especially since The Ninth Configuration, although not a horror film, along with The Exorcist and The Exorcist III, makes up the Trilogy of Faith.
The action of The Ninth Configuration takes place in the early 1970s. In a grand castle located in a forest somewhere on the American Northwest Coast, there is a secret military facility. In reality, it is a psychiatric hospital for soldiers. Among the patients, there are predominantly veterans of the Vietnam War, such as Colonel Reno, who wants to stage Shakespeare with a cast of dogs, but there is also astronaut Billy Cutshaw, who suffered a nervous breakdown shortly before his moon mission. Hudson Kane, a Marine Corps colonel and psychiatrist, arrives at the facility and intends to subject the convalescents to an unconventional therapy. His method involves giving the patients complete freedom so they can indulge in their delusions. Kane engages in philosophical discussions with the patients, listening to their theories. Some of them suspect that the psychiatrist himself is insane.
Blatty based the film’s screenplay on his book Twinkle, Twinkle, ‘Killer’ Kane! from 1966, which he extensively reworked and published 12 years later under the title The Ninth Configuration. Originally, William Friedkin, with whom Blatty had collaborated on The Exorcist, was supposed to direct, but no film studio was interested in this strange and risky project. Eventually, Blatty managed to persuade the management of the PepsiCo corporation to finance half of the production costs (he covered the remaining part himself). The Ninth Configuration was initially scheduled for release at the end of 1979, but due to distribution issues, the premiere was postponed to February of the following year. The film did not achieve commercial success, but it received very positive reviews and a handful of awards, including a Golden Globe and a Saturn Award, both of which honored the screenplay.
In one of his interviews, Blatty stated that he considers The Ninth Configuration, not John Boorman’s Exorcist II, to be the proper “spiritual” continuation of The Exorcist (both the novel and its Friedkin-directed screen adaptation). Both titles, in their own ways, delve into themes of good and evil, suffering and sacrifice, the mystery of existence, as well as faith and its absence. Blatty explained the mood of the book, which laid the foundation for his directorial debut, saying, “It was a comic novel, but it contained a great deal of philosophy and theology.” The mix of philosophy and farce, seriousness and humor, combined with the backdrop of the military mental hospital in the film, brings to mind a fusion of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as adapted by Miloš Forman, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 in Mike Nichols’ adaptation, and Robert Altman’s take on M*A*S*H.
The Ninth Configuration is undoubtedly an ambitious and intriguing film, but it may not delve deeply into its subject matter. In one scene, Kane and Cutshaw discuss the existence of God and the concept of a divine plan. Kane believes that the existence of a Creator is more likely than the possibility that humanity is a result of chance. He argues that human goodness, demonstrated through selfless altruism and acts of pure sacrifice, is evidence of this. At this point, Cutshaw challenges Kane to provide just one concrete example of such an act, but his speechless interlocutor fails to do so. In a similar situation, a well-educated viewer familiar with recent history from Poland would readily cite examples like Maksymilian Kolbe, Marian Batko, Grzegorz Peradze, the Ulmów family, and (perhaps) Otto Schimek. They might then shrug their shoulders at what they perceive as the film’s supposed “depth” by comparison