Sunday, May 22, 2011

EQUUS (1977) - Sidney Lumet

There's no getting around the more disturbing zoophiliac elements in Peter Shaffer's play Equus, the story of a sheltered teenage boy whose fixation on a horse as both sexual object and religious icon drives him to commit a ghastly, violent act. These icky elements are the foundation on which Shaffer's masterful indictment/exploration of modern psychiatry stands. To Lumet's credit, he doesn't tip-toe around the unseemly stuff but dives right in, no-hoofs-barred. More than this, he often shoots the disillusioned psychiatrist's diatribes directly into camera, Richard Burton not only breaking the fourth wall but practically spitting right through it.

To most modern audiences, I'm guessing this would be TOO much, too heavy-handed, inciting more nervous titters than introspection. But, hey, what can I worked for me. Shaffer's play is confrontational by nature. Lumet seems to know this and ups the ante in his filmed version. I read the play years ago in college and coming to the film for the first time after many years assumed there were multiple things Lumet would have to "tell" and not "show." Well, Sidney shows them all and in crisp, hard focus, and the film is the better for it. Were Equus to be remade today, I'm pretty sure all these scenes would be nixed first thing, the disturbed young teen's neurotic compulsions turned to superpowers and the object of his fixation no longer a horse but Kate Hudson. In other words, Hollywood, please DO NOT remake Equus.

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