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The Ninth Configuration (1980)

aka The Ninth Configuration

"How Do You Fight A War Called Madness?"

Directed By: 
Written By: 
Details: 118 mins · English · R (USA)


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Small Col. Vincent Kane
Small Capt. Billy Cutshaw
Small Col. Richard Fell
Small Maj. Marvin Groper
No_movie_poster Capt. Fairbanks
Small Maj. Nammack
Small Lt. Bennish
Small Lt. Spinell
No_movie_poster Lt. Gomez
Small Sgt. Krebs
No_movie_poster 1st Cyclist (Stanley)
Small 2nd Cyclist (Richard)
Small Dr. Fromme
Small Lt. Frankie Reno


"How Do You Fight A War Called Madness?"

"It will take you to the edge of your mind!"

"Don't blink for a second, because nothing is what it seems."


A large castle is being used by the US Government as an insane asylum for military personnel. Among the many patients there is a former astronaut, Billy Cutshaw, who aborted a moon launch and was dragged screaming from the capsule.

Colonel Kane, a former member of a United States Marine Corps special unit, arrives at the castle to take over the treatment of the patients. He meets Colonel Fell, who helps Kane acclimate himself to the eccentricities of the patients. Kane pays special attention to Cutshaw, repeatedly asking him why he didn't want to go to the moon. Cutshaw refuses to answer, but instead gives him a St. Christopher medal.

After meeting with several of the patients, Kane falls asleep in his office. He has a nightmare, and when recounting it he explains to Fell that they are another man's nightmares, a former patient's. The patient was a soldier who had told Kane he had severed a Vietnamese boy's head with a wire trap and the boy was still talking when the soldier found it. Fell asks who the man was, and Kane responds that it was his brother, who is a "murderer". Kane asks if Fell has heard of Vincent "Killer" Kane, a guerrilla soldier who was personally responsible for killing dozens of enemies. Kane says "Killer" Kane was the soldier who told him the story, but was now dead.

Later, Cutshaw talks with another patient about Kane. Cutshaw suspects that Kane is actually crazy himself. He asserts that psychiatrists often go crazy and have the highest suicide rate of any profession.

Cutshaw goes to talk with Kane again, and they debate God and the idea that there is a divine plan. Kane, who believes that the existence of a God is far more likely than humanity having emerged from "random chance", tries to argue that deeds of pure self-sacrifice are proof of human goodness, which can only be explained by divine purpose. Cutshaw demands that Kane recall one concrete example of pure self-sacrifice from his personal experience. Kane can not. Cutshaw convinces Kane to take him to a church service, and while there he interrupts the service with several outbursts. Looking at an altar boy, Kane momentarily sees a Vietnamese boy. After returning to the castle, Cutshaw thanks Kane and asks him to send him a sign as proof of an afterlife should Kane die first. Kane promises to try.

A new patient is scheduled to arrive at the castle and Kane goes to meet him. Kane instantly recognizes the soldier, who calls him "Killer Kane." Kane then flashes back to Vietnam as the soldier stumbles upon Kane, who is kneeling on the ground and muttering that he cut a boy's head off with a wire, but the boy "kept on talking". Insisting that they need to leave, the soldier advances on Kane, whom he sees is holding a severed head in his hands. Kane screams and the flashback ends. Kane collapses, unconscious.

Finding out what happened, Fell then explains to the staff that Kane really is Vincent "Killer" Kane, and had suffered a breakdown in Vietnam. When Fell, who is actually Kane's brother Hudson, was dispatched back to America, Kane received the dispatch by accident. Kane convinced himself that he wasn't "Killer" Kane, and was instead a healer - like his brother. Subconsciously hoping to heal people to make up for his "murders" Kane returned to the US as his brother. Realizing Kane's mental state, the Army psychiatric staff maintained the charade and sent him to Fell's hospital under the pretext of being its commanding officer. In reality, Fell has been the commanding officer all along. Kane awakens and remembers nothing of the incident.

Cutshaw escapes the castle and visits a bar. A biker gang recognizes Cutshaw from news reports of the aborted moon launch and begins brutalizing him. A waitress contacts the hospital and Kane, who arrives at the bar to retrieve him. Kane humbles himself to the bikers in order to get Cutshaw out of there, but the bikers are disgusted by his "cowardly" behavior. The gang brutalize and try to rape Cutshaw. Kane then snaps and kills most of the bikers with his bare hands.

Kane and Cutshaw return to the castle, and the police arrive to arrest Kane for the murders at the bar. Cutshaw visits Kane, who has wrapped himself in a blanket. Dreamy and distant, Kane disjointedly mumbles to Cutshaw about God and proof of human goodness before passing out. As Cutshaw leaves, Kane's hand emerges from his blankets and drops a bloody knife. Outside Kane's room, Cutshaw notices a spot of blood on his shoe. Rushing back in, Cutshaw discovers that Kane has died, sacrificing his own life in an attempt to provide Cutshaw the concrete example of human goodness which he was unable to demonstrate earlier.

Some time later, Cutshaw (apparently cured) has returned to uniform and visits the now-abandoned castle. He sits in Kane's office and reads a note written to him by Kane shortly before his death. Kane writes that he hopes his death will "shock" Cutshaw back into sanity, but at any rate, he now has his one example of self-sacrifice. Cutshaw returns to his car and discovers a Saint Christopher's medal has somehow appeared on the seat. He turns it over to confirm whether it was the one he gave to Kane and silently rejoices at what he sees.

Release Dates:

DVD : 2002-09-17