Half-farcical comedy, half-thrilling psychological drama; The Ninth Configuration is a confusing movie that leaves you wanting more.

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The film begins in a mental asylum housing mainly Vietnam veterans who have been withdrawn from duty due to various mental illnesses – from paranoia to schizophrenia. A new psychiatrist, Vincent Kane (Stacy Keach) arrives and is given the task of identifying which patients are faking illness to avoid the war and which are actually insane. As the film develops it is the psychiatrist himself who starts to doubt his sanity as the audience becomes as confused as the characters.


The films main (and most interesting) focus is the doctor-patient relationship between Kane and one of the patients Billy Cutshaw (Scott Wilson), a disgraced astronaut who fled halted the take-off before a journey to the moon. It is this relationship and the conversations between the two that make the film beat. Every interaction between the two characters is wonderfully acted, written and filmed to show the always changing dynamic between them; with the climatic sequence being particularly gripping and a perfect example of cinema at it’s best.


For some reason, the film plays out several comic sub-plot alongside these gripping scenes that is not only unfunny and tedious but also pointless. These stories involve a man trying to walk through a wall, an inmate dressing up as superman and a five minute monologue about Hamlet being played a dog (although the dog is admittedly very cute). The entire experience is bizarre in contrast to the more emotional half.


Despite these differences the film makes them work and has a charm that is astounding; I became so fully immersed in what is happening that I was disappointed to see it end and was half-tempted to re-watch it there and then (I did not).

The Ninth Configuration is an immersive film filled with great moments, it’s just a shame that poorly written jokes take away some of the tension that builds throughout.