Oh, those paranoid delusions: Harvey, They Might Be Giants, Man of La Mancha

Three movies about men with delusions.  In Harvey, James Stewart believes he’s followed around by a tall white rabbit, in They Might Be Giants George C. Scott believes he is Sherlock Holmes, in Man of La Mancha Peter O’Toole believes he’s a good actor Don Quixote.

In each of these movies, the families of the men seek to have them committed.  In each of these movies, the filmmakers would like us to side with the crazy guy.  Insanity is so cute in Hollywood.  It’s not destructive or terrifying or heart-rending, it’s sweet and harmless and adorable, and if we look upon these men as anything other than inspirational, isn’t it really we who are the crazy ones?

Call me mean-spirited, but by the end of Harvey I wanted to strap James Stewart down to a table and give him electro-shock therapy.  That would wipe that sweet, silly grin off his face.  Stewart was nominated for an Oscar for this cloying, sentimental performance (big surprise) (and later repeated it for a 1972 TV version), but I’m glad I saw him first in Vertigo and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

SPOILER ALERT: It turns out the rabbit is real.

They Might Be Giants is the most enjoyable, at least for the first half.  George C. Scott actually makes a pretty good Holmes, acerbic, arrogant, full of himself, and the sight of him wandering around a gritty, 1970 New York is startling.  The movie also gets points for inspiring the name of my favorite currently-working American band.  It also gets points for featuring a fine New York cast, including Jack Gilford as a librarian, F. Murray Abraham as a theater usher, Eugene Roche as a policeman, M. Emmet Walsh as a garbageman and James Tolkan as some guy. Alas, the movie is about a crazy guy and the analyst trying to cure him, so by the mid-point of the movie the analyst starts believing in him, and so does everyone else he’s met, and the narrative quickly gets retarded real fast.  By the final reel it spirals completely out of control; the analyst falls in love with her patient, the performances turn disastrously sentimental and the narrative even clumsily attempts to enter the cosmic.

Man of La Mancha is just awful, a stagebound chore of a movie.  A film of a musical of a novel (that would be Don Quixote), it fails on all levels.  Released in 1972, late in the Hollywood Musical run, it stages its numbers almost apologetically, as though embarrassed to include them at all.  The actors shuffle around the soundstage, “talking” the lyrics and half-heartedly moving to the music without actually performing any choreography.  Several conceptual devices, such as mixing locations with soundstages and filming fantasy with “gritty 70s realism” camera work gut whatever effect the stage musical was after.  Peter O’Toole is okay in a stylized way as Don Quixote but his scenes as Cervantes are unwatchably, depressingly loud, hammy and emphatic in the “Great British Actor” mode (cf Richard Burton, Laurence Oliver).

What is it about clinical insanity that Hollywood feels such a need to defend?  They want us to love these kooky misfits, they want us to hold them up for high regard, as they see the world more clearly than we do.

Can someone please direct me to a movie that portrays insanity as something other than a cute, harmless eccentricity?  Certainly, somewhere in cinematic history, insanity has been portrayed somewhere between the two extremes of Arsenic and Old Lace and Psycho.

They Might Be Giants, in its own way, is also an adaptation of Don Quixote and takes it’s title from Quixote’s response to the windmills:  yes, they look like windmills, but they might be giants.  This makes it a perfect name for the band, and for a movie about a guy who thinks he’s Sherlock Holmes.

And how perfect is it that Pedro Almodovar (pictured above) is literally a Man of La Mancha?

All three of these movies were based on stage plays, and all of them show it to one degree or another.  This is another good reason to abandon theater as an art form.
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Comments

57 Responses to “Oh, those paranoid delusions: Harvey, They Might Be Giants, Man of La Mancha”
  1. craigjclark says:

    You want to see insanity treated right? Try Altman’s Images. Susannah York’s performance is anything but cute and harmless. Also give Karel Reisz’s Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment, in which David Warner gives an unsettling performance, a try. (That one skews a little more toward the eccentric at times, but you really do believe that Warner, if given the chance, could be a danger to himself and others.)

    And Bunuel was also, I believe, a Man of La Mancha.

  2. sheherazahde says:

    Are you OK?

    You seem unusually negative and cycnical lately.

    “Can someone please direct me to a movie that portrays insanity as something other than a cute, harmless eccentricity?”

    A Beautiful Mind
    Sybil
    Now, Voyager
    The Three Faces of Eve
    Girl, Interrupted
    One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
    The Fisher King
    Conspiracy Theory
    K-PAX

    • ghostgecko says:

      Oh, I’ve got to disagree with a lot of those choices. A Beautiful Mind was complete fluff as well as being absurdly whitewashed. Schizophrenia does not mean you have a bunch of lovely imaginary friends who applaud you when you’re giving a speech! And Cuckoo’s Nest, which I admit is a movie I like, is yet another when insanity is merely a tool to teach a lesson (What we call insanity is just the individuals attempt to come with an insane society ! – shades of Szaz’s batshit psychology), although what elevates it is there isn’t a “normal” character in the movie who’s supposed to be enlightened.

      If you widen the definition of insanity to include developmental disabilites, I can think of a few.

      “David’s Mother” is about a woman trying to raise her autistic son by herself and violently rejecting the outside world’s (her sister, her potential boyfriend, the child welfare system) attempts to help. The movie does not end happily. David, like a real person with low-functioning autism, does not respond to attempts to “reach out” to him and despite his mother’s best efforts and her totally putting her entire energies into him, he still ends up in an institution. It’s like a better version of Rain Man, without the sap and the card-counting schtick.

      In the recent version of “Bartleby”, Bartleby’s slow, progressive loss of function is treated as a harmless eccentricity, a joke and an annoynace by the people around him. Finally, they do their best to get rid of him completely. He ends up dying of exposure under a bridge . . . echoes of the fate of a lot of people kicked out of the health care system by the deinstitutionalization policies of the 80’s.

      “What Is It?”, which I’ve ranted about before, portrays mentally handicapped people as people – people who get angry and frustrated, who have dark, violent impulses and sexual urges – not God’s Special Angels, holy fools who are here to make normal people feel good about themselves.

      You could even make a case for “Silence of the Lambs”. Although it’s been referenced and parodied so many times it has lost some of the original impact, Lecter is such a great character because despite his articulateness, he refined taste and his intellect, his insanity makes him dangerous as a rabid pit bull, not cute at all.

      I’ll try to think of more . . . whacked out on codeine at the moment, so the brain’s not working as well as it should.

      • sheherazahde says:

        The confines of the question

        You are free to disagree, of course.

        “fluff” is relative. I don’t think there is much box office appeal for movies about pointless miserable lives that end in pointless miserable deaths.

        Todd specifically asked for “a movie that portrays insanity as something other than a cute, harmless eccentricity”. So that was what I looked for.

        “A Beautiful Mind” may have had a happy ending but I don’t think letting your imaginary friend watch your baby in the bathtub is a “cute, harmless eccentricity”.

        I almost didn’t include K-PAX because for most of the movie it is exactly what Todd is complaining about – a cute, harmless eccentric teaches life lessons. Except that we find out his eccentricity is his way of dealing with the violent deaths of his wife and child. He might be cute and eccentric but you wouldn’t want to be him.

        I didn’t include movies like “Silence of the Lambs” because Todd specifically asked for “somewhere between the two extremes of Arsenic and Old Lace and Psycho.” and that is at the Psycho extreme.

        • ghostgecko says:

          Re: The confines of the question

          >>> “A Beautiful Mind” may have had a happy ending

          In other words, it used a human being’s real suffering as part of a cute little package for mass consumption. Hence, fluff. Most fluff/insanity movies do have a few moments that are supposed to be heart-wrenching and thought-provoking, but since the main point of the film is for the insanity to be loveable, it reduces it to eccentricity.

          The baby in the bathtub scene doesn’t rescue it from being fluff – if you’re using Arsenic and Old Lace as an extreme, the dotty aunties were serial killers.

          I’d say Silence of the Lambs falls into the range, because Lecter had many admirable qualities that (supposedly) offset his insanity, whereas Norman Bates was an iredeemable wreck. Lecter’s “good” qualities were what tricked people into trusting him.

          • sheherazahde says:

            Re: The confines of the question

            You and I are interpreting the parameters of this question in entirely different ways. I interpreted Todd’s range to exclude all serial killers and all movies where mental illness is “sweet and harmless and adorable, and if we look upon these men as anything other than inspirational, isn’t it really we who are the crazy ones?”

            Movies I didn’t include for these reasons are: Any about a psycho killer, “Benny & Joon“, Don Juan DeMarco

            “Fluff” is too subject a criteria for me to find useful, (which is why I’m glad Todd didn’t use it).

            “it used a human being’s real suffering as part of a cute little package for mass consumption. Hence, fluff.”

            That is the movie business. Since Todd works in the movie business I think he understands that and would factor it into his request.

            I totally disagree that the “the main point of [A Beautiful Mind] is for the insanity to be loveable”. We are supposed to sympathize with the main character, but I don’t think his mental illness was presented as cute or harmless. His mental illness was not his virtue (his virtue was his mathematical skill) his mental illness was the major problem he had to overcome.

            • ghostgecko says:

              Re: The confines of the question

              Pardon me for using a subjectIVE criteria. You seem to like movies to be uplifting and adhere closely to the Hollywood big-boxoffice format which naturally is the only criteria by which movies should be judged. After all, if a movie doesn’t sell a lot of tickets, it’s clearly without worth!

              • sheherazahde says:

                Re: The confines of the question

                You do not have any basis for drawing conclusions about what I like since this entire discussion has been about movies that meet a particular criteria, and “I like them” was not one of the parameters.

                I said nothing about judging movies by their box office returns, I only brought that up because it is a concern of the people who finance the making of movies. People who invest in the making of movies usually have some hope that they might get money back and that effects what movies they invest in and therefor what movies get made.

            • Todd says:

              Re: The confines of the question

              Don Juan De Marco is actually on my list. I had forgotten about Benny and Joon. Jeez, this Johnny Depp guy — and hey! He was doing the Gilliam Don Quixote movie that got ruined, too!

              Excuse me, I need to make a phone call.

              While it is true that I work in the movie business, commercial success is by no means a factor I consider when looking for movies to steal fr — er, be inspired by. Quite the opposite, I love to take elements from an “artsy” picture (Persona, say, as long as we’re talking about crazy people) and re-deploy them in the Hollywood realm. And now you know my horrible secret.

              I disliked the way schizophrenia was treated in A Beautiful Mind but I grant that it was not made overly cute. And Jennifer Connelly was bitchin’ in that movie.

          • Re: The confines of the question

            Sure, A Beautiful Mind is a bit sanitized and slickly packaged, and perhaps the Paul Bettany figment borders on adorable, but it never makes John Nash’s affliction cute or enviable (unlike The Fisher King, which I’m surprised you didn’t call out as the absolute worst offender in this category, no offense to Mr. Giliam). Let’s also try to remember that it’s essentially a true story. Facts were altered, whitewashed, “film-ified,” as in any biopic, but the man did go through hell and come out the other end–not cured, not 100% his old self, but functional…and inspiring. Not every story about mental illness has to end in tragedy.

            Does The Aviator count, by the way?

            • ghostgecko says:

              Re: The confines of the question

              I haven’t seen the Fisher King in so long, all I have in my memory is a label marked “bad movie”, so I couldn’t call it out effectively. The Aviator, I have not seen.

              I was forced to watch Beautiful Mind fairly recently, so the pain is still there. Sorry, I don’t find it even slightly inspiring. It’s the same dull old cripple story. You go into it knowing its going to have a happy ending and that’s exactly what it hands you.

              Did you ever see that old skit on Saturday Night Live where a blind guy is being interviewed, and the talk show host keeps inquiring if he’s climbed any mountains, and the guy finally explodes and says something to the effect that just because he’s handicapped, he doesn’t have to put on a dog and pony show to make normal people feel inspired? This type of movie always reminds me of that.

              I’m not saying every movie about mental illness has to end in tragedy, but disneyfiying it to the degree a Beautiful Mind did guts any impact his struggles might have had. He goes through Hell Lite. It’s like Love Story, where the girl dies from a slight cough.

              A more realistic treatment of what he went through could have been affecting. I was ready to barf by the end when everything was all lit golden and happy.

            • Todd says:

              Re: The confines of the question

              Aviator, tone-wise, is an excellent example of what I’m looking for. The narrative totally gets us on the guy’s side, then keeps pushing the line further and further, daring us “okay, now do you still identify with him?” It dramatises his life without turning him into a “disease of the week” movie, which would be a big mistake for a movie about a figure as complex as Howard Hughes.

    • Todd says:

      Re: Are you OK?

      You seem unusually negative and cycnical lately.

      Thank you for your concern. I am fine IF ONLY THESE VOICES IN MY HEAD WOULD STOP THEIR INCESSANT NATTERING!!!AKDFAIEFDKJAFDK

      Sorry.

      Allow me to provide some context. I am working on an adaptation of Don Quixote, which is why I started with the movies I did. They all fall short of what I’m looking for, which is a comedy that is a tad more realistic and a tad less sentimental and cartoonish than the examples given. The Fisher King is closer, rather close to the first hour of They Might Be Giants, although it it ultimately becomes sentimental as well.

      Funny thing about One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; it’s one of my favorite movies of the 1970s, but one of its theses is that the men in the asylum aren’t actually insane, or have been made so by the asylum itself.

      I have never seen Three Faces of Eve, but it’s funny that Joanne Woodward starred in it, as she ended up in They Might Be Giants as well, this time as the (nominally) not-crazy person.

  3. If you’re looking for unflattering portrayals of insanity from Big-Time Hollywood movies, neither One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest nor Girl Interrupted paint the prettiest picture, though the truly insane characters are on the periphery of those stories. Sure, they have their cute moments, and their moments of unbridled insane ecstacy, too… but then so does the average jibbering street person. Moving outside the studio system a little bit, you’ve got the brilliant A Woman Under the Influence(how amazing and heartbreaking is Gena Rowlands?). The Pledge is pretty screwed up, also. Even though it sort of ennobles its protagonist, you never wish you were that guy. There are definitely plenty of “descent into madness” films–of many shades–but not a whole bunch where your main character is already institutionalized or homeless at the beginning.

    On an unrelated note, I find it odd that a guy who so disdains cloying cuteness in his motion pictures welcomes it with open arms in his currently-working American bands.

    • ghostgecko says:

      They Might Be Giants are only superifically cute. A lot of the songs are lyrically very twisted – “In The Back” is about a man preparing to commit suicide by jumping off a building, “My Man” is about being paralyzed from the neck down, “The Bells Are Ringing” castigates evangelical Christianity and groupthink (Still haven’t figured out “Boat of Car”).
      But they are damned catchy.

      • Anonymous says:

        What’s so funny about the late 80s ironic distance? I would just add that it has something to do with the character of the voice in TMBG. It is precariously balanced to tell tales shaded with just enough adolescent angst while showing enough age to be able to render those thoughts in a bigger picture – and that also gives it a kind of uneasy feel despite the pop hookiness. Smart really, as long as it doesn’t go off the route into cloying territory. And yes, I do feel their song fits perfectly for “Malcolm..”

    • Todd says:

      Ah, A Woman Under the Influence, an excellent choice, and handily sitting on my DVD shelf unwatched.

      Regarding, They Might Be Giants (the band), do not let their shiny gumball-colored exterior fool you. While their songs might not reach the poetic heights of Alcott-kingpin Bob Dylan, beneath their bubbly, punchy melodies their lyrics are as dense, thorny, mysterious and psychologically complex as, say, Elvis Costello’s (another Alcott mainstay), and a good deal more fun to listen to. Germane to the present discussion, their songs about identity, self-awareness and various degrees of paranoid delusions are spot-on, as well as being hilarious and catchy as hell. Songs like “Where Your Eyes Don’t Go” and “When It Rains It Snows” and “Someone Keeps Moving My Chair” and “Till My Head Comes Off” and “Dead,” to name a handful off the top of my head.

      • craigjclark says:

        I know everyone always raves about how good Gena Rowlands is in A Woman Under the Influence, but I think Peter Falk is the one who walks away with the acting honors.

  4. popebuck1 says:

    I was going to recommend A Woman Under The Influence, but beat me to it.

    As for Peter O’Toole, he plays crazy much more effectively in The Ruling Class, a British film (from around 1967, I think) where he’s a young nobleman who is unfortunately convinced he’s Jesus Christ. His exasperated family finally gets him “cured,” except now he thinks he’s Jack the Ripper and becomes a genuine serial killer. However, since he’s no longer embarrassing them in public, they’re pretty much okay with that. Very funny, and MUCH, MUCH darker than a Hollywood treatment of the same subject matter would have been.

    And for something a little more modern, there’s Clean, Shaven, about a man suffering (and boy, does he suffer) from schizophrenia. Brutally captures how terrible it must be, simply never to be sure whether what you’re perceiving around you is “real” or not. Highly recommended.

  5. Anonymous says:

    “Can someone please direct me to a movie that portrays insanity as something other than a cute, harmless eccentricity?”

    Well, there ARE arguments that 90% of Hollywood films is just social insanity being played out on the screen – happy endings and all. The other percentage are just badly done.

    And do you mean, the character of institutionalized insanity? So of course, the “Cuckoo’s Nest” list. Or that something twisted introduced to skew the trust in the character’s subjective/narrator view that goes uncomfortably too far, which can be found in Polanski films, from say any Deneuve role, or “The Tenant”.

    Then again, if TV is counting – Those TV behind-the-scenes stories of “Three’s Company” and so on. I.n.s.a.n.e.

    • craigjclark says:

      Polanski, right. How could I forget him? Repulsion should be at the top of your list.

      • Todd says:

        Repulsion and The Tenant are both masterpieces in this regard. If only they were comedies. Which they are, I guess, if one views them from the proper distance.

        • craigjclark says:

          Unfortunately, Polanski’s track record when it comes to comedies isn’t great. For every Dance of the Vampires, there’s a What? waiting around the corner. And then there’s Cul-de-sac, which I’ve been dying to see for years now.

    • Anonymous says:

      ” Those TV behind-the-scenes stories of “Three’s Company” and so on. I.n.s.a.n.e.”

      Surely more “inane”, which insanity can never be guilty of.

  6. toliverchap says:

    The real problem is that insanity means an irrational and illogical desire on the part of the protagonist. This does not work and so these stories are modifyied to give the audience empathy for the insane person, either by eschewing the insanity and thereby making it irrelevant or not real or by placing the audience in a point of view where the actions of the insane protagonist seem logical. To tell a true story about an insane person would be a lame incoherent story. Just think What does the insane protagonist want? He wants George Washington to kill that blue door knob donkey for Jesus.

    • Anonymous says:

      If you cast Clooney as Washington, people would come.

      • Anonymous says:

        Correction: I should have said, if you cast Clooney as the blue doorknob donkey, people would come.

        • Todd says:

          It’s interesting, because with the three movies cited here, it seemed to me that the attempt is made to make the “partner” the protagonist — the analyst in Giants, Cervantes in La Mancha, the aunt in Harvey — but the dramatist (and thus the audience) quickly loses interest in these protagonists as the drama becomes formed around the crazy person’s view of the world, which, by the end of the movie, is shown to be the “correct” view of the world.

          That may be key to the whole thing, this sense of imbalance I’m feeling (in the movies, NOT IN MY OWN MIND — STOP IT, MOTHER! I WON’T KILL FOR YOU AGAIN!!!! KFDADFIGaGEIAHG)

          Sorry. I say, this sense of imbalance I’m feeling is that I’m trying to find a narrative (for my adaptation of Don Quixote) that will both show the world from the crazy person’s view, but not be so sentimental as to abdicate to that view. Something a little more sober and clear-eyed — Quixote from Sancho’s POV, essentially.

  7. gdh says:

    Realistic portrayals of mental illness tend not to make for good stories. I doubt there’s going to be a film version of Surfacing any time soon. Completely made-up forms of mental illness (See: Fight Club, Pi…) are much better plot devices.

    • Todd says:

      Agreed.

      On the flip side of the coin, there was a piece in the New Yorker this week about a group of psychiatrists who met to discuss the portrayals of psychiatrists in movies. The list of realistic, positive portrayals was, guess what, very short.

      • gdh says:

        Most professions are probably portrayed horribly inaccurately most of the time, both in terms of the rules and procedures of the trade, and the technology used. As a computer science major, I almost always cringe when a TV show or movie tries to deal with things like cryptography. And my father (a doctor) cannot stand watching “House”.

        • Todd says:

          Sadly, the life of the professional writer is described all too accurately in all media. It’s like walking around naked.

          • Anonymous says:

            Back up to that NYTimes article and the talking psychiatrists.

            It’s interesting to consider the flip-side, how psychoanalysis – which is concerned with interpretation – ended up in cinema, and particular as Freud himself wanted nothing to do with Hollywood, and no bio ever really did him justice.

            The film “Peeping Tom” came out the same year as “Psycho”. While arguably more B-movie pathological, using no suspense factor as “Psycho” did superbly, it still has more depth in terms of a convincing and modern backstory for understanding the conditions that drive the “insanity”.

            Looking up on IMDB, it mentions “Director Powell and screenwriter Leo Marks had wanted to do a film about the work of Sigmund Freud, but John Huston was working on “Freud” in Hollywood, so Marks suggest a story about a voyeuristic murderer as an alternative psychological thriller.”

            How close films on insanity and films on the “cure” by psychoanalysis, lie together.

            Which leads me to Don Quixote – is it psychoanalysis or insanity, is it the interpretation, an author creates two figures in an equilbrium of a relationship, and sends them out to interpret, or at least inscribe a path into a very imbalanced real world, where the question becomes “who is crazy” (which is different in a way than “insane”) or is it really about an “insane” character in a otherwise sane world? I don’t think the book intends to set that out as a precise answer really.

            The treatment of the ‘Great Classics’ literary figures as solely “insane” versus all kinds of inherited literary devices belonging to social commentaries and wise-fools is also tricky. And this is a figure who ends up with a term named after him,”quixotic” that by the way, has no relation to a form of insanity, but implies a vision that may be, or is always on the verge of, even a bit fantasy, but not insanity, and that again makes such a difference in treatment (as in movies now)

            If we are going to Polanksi, I would add for consideration the “insanity”, as seen in Alejandro AmenĂ¡bar 1997 film “Open your eyes”.

            • Todd says:

              Powell and Pressburger have recently invaded my consciousness like a panzer division, and here I am having only seen The Red Shoes.

              Quixote, it seems to me, is a dense, multilayered work that delivers on its comic premise while also drawing a scathing portrait of the landscape that Quixote and Sancho move through. The movies listed above, on the other hand, have no such layering — their delusional men are simply goofy visionaries and everyone else is a bumbling, crass idiot, incapable of seeing the paranoid’s vision. There is no attempt at balance, to show the honest lives of the people who actually have to deal with the crazy person, or the doubt, fear and confusion that must, after all, surface in the mind of the paranoid when the world doesn’t match up with his/her vision.

              It is funny that “quixotic” refers not to someone who is crazy, but rather someone engaged in a struggle they cannot possibly win.

              I haven’t seen Open Your Eyes, but I have great reservations regarding the American remake.

              • craigjclark says:

                Powell & Pressburger

                Don’t feel bad. It took me a long time to get into the Archers, too. For ambitious British filmmaking at its finest, start with The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, A Matter of Life and Death and Black Narcissus.

                In fact, you should probably start with Black Narcissus since that’s a film about a group of nuns who try to start a religious community in the Himalayas and start to go mad in different ways.

              • Anonymous says:

                Well, I didn’t want to go there, but when I think of quixotic…the Peter Brooks film reworking of the Peter Weiss play “Marat/Sade”, though surely dated by Brooks method, has the mix of political prisoners with the others belonging to a French lunatic asylum of the period, putting on de Sade’s play, etc.. it fits.

  8. craigjclark says:

    Oh, man. I can’t believe I’ve forgotten this until this moment:

    Jan Svankmajer’s Lunacy. It’s coming out on DVD this Tuesday. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

  9. Anonymous says:

    “Can someone please direct me to a movie that portrays insanity as something other than a cute, harmless eccentricity?”

    cf the films of Lodge Kerrigan, specifically “Clean, Shaven” and “Keane”.

  10. mr_noy says:

    “Can someone please direct me to a movie that portrays insanity as something other than a cute, harmless eccentricity?”

    I recommend Equus, unless you consider horse blinding, sexual repression, and animal mutilation as cute and harmless.

    Actually, I’ve always thought Harvey and Equus have more than a few similarites: Elwood has a platonic, best friend relationship with an imaginary rabbit while Alan Strang has an erotic, ritualistic subject/deity relationship with an imaginary horse god. Both Elwood and Alan are placed under psychiatric care by family members who insist they conform to societal norms. Elwood’s family decide they love him as he is, quirks and all, and decide against the treatment at the last minute. Alan, on the other hand, is “cured” but Dysart knows that his patient’s new found “normalcy” dooms him to a passionless, meaningless existence devoid of genuine faith and defined by sexual repression, consumerism, and conformity.

    Harvey doesn’t state the case that strongly, of course, but it must have seemed like a radical enough idea in the 40’s to warrant the Pulitzer Prize. Of course, Harvey also muddles its point by revealing the rabbit to be real.

    • Todd says:

      haven’t seen Equus, but I’ve heard that one Daniel Radcliffe meow is quite, um, stirring in the current London stage production. I had completely forgotten that the lad’s name in that play is Alan Strang.

      Harvey, let it be said, does not say that the rabbit is imaginary; it says it is a Pooka, a celtic animal spirit — a fairy. It also has a benign, live-and-let-live attitude toward 24-hour drinking, which would probably not get it the Pulitzer these days.

      • mr_noy says:

        I’ve never seen Equus on stage but I’ve read it and I think the Sidney Lumet film is very underrated. Apart from Richard Burton’s monologues delivered to the camera it never feels “stagy”. I don’t recall who played Strang but he too was very good. I still can’t picture Radcliffe in it but I’ll give him credit for tackling such a tough role.

        On the other hand, I’ve never seen the film of Harvey but I have recently seen it on stage. Your memory is better than mine; Harvey the Pooka is invisible, not imaginary. For some reason, my suspension of disbelief just won’t let me remember him as anything but one of Elwood’s harmless eccentricities.

  11. jaysumallah says:

    I know this post is almost three years old, and this comment will probably go forever unread. But Cronenberg’s Spider is wonderful. It’s also the only movie about schizophrenia that I can think of that gets one thing right about the disease: the negative symptoms of intelligence loss and inactivity are no less debilitating or dreadful than the positive symptoms of hallucination and delusion.