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φ, Dream Doctors as Healers in Drama and Film: A Paradigm, an Antecedent, and an Imitation James M. Welsh The drama of psychiatry has been effectively popularized on stage and at the movies in three plays that follow essentially the same pattern. The first example was provided by Tennessee Williams in Suddenly Last Summer (directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz for Columbia Pictures in 1960). The most recent example was John Pielmeir's Agnes of God (directed by Norman Jewison for Columbia Pictures in 1985). The most impressive example, however, was Peter Shaffer's Equus (directed by Sidney Lumet for United Artists in 1977). All three plays deal widi taboo subjects (ranging from homosexuality to infanticide), and all three dramatize the solution of a central mystery, bizarre and disturbing in its implications . Suddenly Last Summer set die pattern, particularly in the film version , but Equus perfected it. Peter Shaffer's Equus is a play diat plumbs mystery — the mystery of a doctor-patient relationship, die mystery of motivation for the patient who, under extreme stress, has blinded six horses in rural England, and the mystery of psychoanalysis. The play ventures boldly into secret and private territory. It appears to take psychiatry seriously in suggesting that die doctor is able to cure his patient, but it also draws upon popular skepticism in presenting die analyst as a sort of mental basket case, ultimately haunted by die very demons that have possessed his patient. A clear situational antecedent for die central action of Equus (a patient supposedly cured as a consequence of being made to explain and relive a difficult and traumatic incident) can be found in die work of Tennessee Williams — especially the film version (adapted by Gore Vidal) of Literature and Medicine 6 (1987) 117-127 © 1987 by The Johns Hopkins University Press 118 HEALERS IN DRAMA AND FILM Suddenly Last Summer, starring Montgomery Clift as Dr. Cukrowicz; Elizabeth Taylor as Catherine Holly, his patient; and Katharine Hepburn as Mrs. Venable, the wealdiy benefactor trying to manipulate the doctor into performing a lobotomy on her niece, so as to erase from the young woman's memory the hideous death and cannibalistic mutilation of Mrs. Venable's son Sebastian, at a place called Cabeza de Lobo. What happens to die Tennessee Williams play as it is transformed into cinema is instructive, for it is typical of Hollywood commercialization. The play concerns a mother's desperate and pathetic attempt to hide her son's homosexuality and the bizarre conditions surrounding his death. It is a one-act play that had to be expanded to an appropriate length for a feature film. The solution is to open up the play, setting the action at St. Mary's Hospital and at the Lion's View State Asylum, as well as at the Venable mansion, which serves as the central setting for the play. Dr. Cukrowicz is a brain surgeon newly arrived at Lion's View from Chicago. The film opens with the doctor performing a prefrontal lobotomy under abysmal conditions. The bribe Mrs. Venable offers is one million dollars to build a new facility, which makes the head administrator at Lion's View, Dr. Hockstader , more than willing to do her bidding and lobotomize the niece. (Dr. Hockstader, played by Albert Dekker, is a new character added to the film to provide a clear ethical counterpart to Cukrowicz.) Dr. Cukrowicz has scruples, however, and will not agree to perform the operation until he is absolutely convinced that such radical treatment is warranted. In the film Dr. Cukrowicz's delay and obvious interest in the case incubates a romance between doctor and patient. In the play Mrs. Venable intends to have Catherine placed in the State Asylum and simply refuses to continue paying the bills at St. Mary's, a private hospital. In the film Catherine is being dismissed from St. Mary's because of a scandal. She is said to have attempted to seduce a sixty-year-old gardener, who had apparently attempted to seduce her. Later, she appears to be sexually aggressive with Cukrowicz. She kisses him, saying "Hold mel I've been so lonely!" Catherine has also burnt the hand of the Modier Superior...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6571
Print ISSN
0278-9671
Pages
pp. 117-127
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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