I saw the 1977 film Equus this afternoon at the recommendation of some friends. Some of my reactions:
– Had this scenario—a young man believes that horses are gods, which ultimately drives him to stab out the eyes of six horses—occurred in present day he most certainly would have received antipsychotic medication for a presumed psychotic disorder.
(All of the hugging, acting out, night sessions, etc. also would not occur in present day. At least one would hope not.)
– In a monologue near the end of the film the psychiatrist comments:
Passion, you see, can be destroyed by a doctor. It cannot be created.
Indeed! More than one person has shared with me that, while taking psychotropic medication, they don’t feel like “themselves”, their emotions feel muted, they feel “numb”, etc. Certainly medications are not the only agents that can destroy passion: Consider the potential violence in societal expectations, cultural norms, and other social structures.
Only the gods know where passion comes from. People have tried to thwart the gods for as long as we’ve been around.
– In another monologue the psychiatrist notes:
The Normal is the good smile in a child’s eyes. It’s also the dead stare in a million adults. Both sustains and kills… like a god.
Much of the film focuses on the idea of “normal”. Though most people don’t believe horses are gods and experience sexual ecstasy when riding one, everyone has their own penchants that others will find disturbing or peculiar. Most of us have learned to mask these proclivities from public view.
A few times a year people will ask me, in my professional capacity, if I think they are “normal”. While there are a variety of reasons why people ask me that, what often underlies this inquiry is the belief that I can distinguish between “normal” and “not normal”.
Can I just say—I’m sort of joking, but not really—that psychiatrists shouldn’t be the arbiters of “normal”? As a population, psychiatrists are a weird group of people.[1. You will note that I wrote “As a population, psychiatrists are a weird group of people.” To be clear, I didn’t add “as a population” to suggest that I, as an individual, am three standard deviations less weird than the average psychiatrist. I’m weird, too.] Some of the strangest social interactions I’ve experienced have been with psychiatrists… and we all knew that we were all psychiatrists. On more than one occasion I’ve wanted to exclaim, “Why are we so awkward? Can we please just be actual people right now?”
– There’s a lot of violence in the story. I refer not only to the actual stabbing of the horses’ eyes. I refer to the lies about the “truth serum”, the hypnosis and medication administration that seems to occur without consent, the father’s reaction and shame related to his son’s attendance at the “skin flick”, the dreams the main characters have.
Sometimes what we think is kindness is actually violence.
– There’s a bit of dialogue before the climax of the film that goes like this:
Martin: Where are you now, Alan?
Alan: Cabbages, with the moon on them.
I’m pretty sure that Alan’s response is meant to add a rustic, romantic touch to the scene. What do I do? I laugh out loud.
– I don’t recommend the film, though I’d like to see a theatrical production. The monologues of the psychiatrist are noteworthy, though I couldn’t understand much of them until about halfway through the movie.