Equus (1977) Review | Jamie Daily

Equus (1977)
50th Academy Awards 1978
2/5 Stars
Nominated for 3 awards: Best Actor (Richard Burton), Supporting Actor (Peter Firth), and Writing From/Based on Another Medium (Peter Shaffer).
Watched August 24, 2012.

 

There is so much to say about this film, and yet so little.  It leaves me speechless, both in the incredible skill of the actors, but most notably in the bizarreness of the story itself.  I know this is a classic, and I can certainly recognize it as an incredibly deep, probing, philosophical piece that any artist in their right mind would want to tackle.  It is a piece that actors should flock to because of its depth and difficulty.  However, beyond these attributes, it was an incredibly long two hours for me, full of way too much nudity and not enough horses.  Women apparently find horses sexy, according to the film Equus, and I am no different.

 

If you have been living under a rock or are completely out of touch with Broadway, you don’t know what Equus is.  For those of my generation, you might recognize it as the play in which Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) bares all.  It is a philosophical study of a boy’s psyche as well as his worship–the dissection of what normal is and whether or not doctors have the right to define it and then restore it.

 

Dysart: “Passion, you see, can be destroyed by a doctor. It cannot be created…The normal is the good smile in a child’s eyes. There’s also the dead stare in a million adults. It both sustains and kills, like a god. It is the ordinary made beautiful, it is also the average made lethal. Normal is the indispensable murderous god of health and I, am his priest.”

 

Richard Burton plays Martin Dysart, who is the doctor in this case.  He is brilliant.  From his monologues to his dialogues, he is an emotional being completely wrapped up in his character.  Peter Firth, who plays the mentally disturbed youth Alan Strang, on the other hand, is equally talented as he struggles between his shy tendencies and the doctor’s tricks to get him to reveal his secrets.  He is obnoxious, endearing, and terrifying all at the same time.

 

Alan Strang is a seventeen year old boy who is brought to Doctor Dysart after he blinds six horses at the stable he had been working at.  Dysart sets out to discover why Strang did what he did so that he can attempt to cure him.  He investigates Strang’s home life, where his parents are very forthcoming, but as the film progresses, they show their devastation more and more.  At the stable, the owner is indignant – furious that his animals had to endure such cruelty, and equally angry that Strang didn’t get the chair.  Jill, the love interest, won’t show her face to the doctor – she is the last person Strang was with before the incident.

 

Through days and weeks, Dysart uses different tricks to, in a sense, hypnotize Strang so that he will discuss things openly with him.  It is in these circumstances that we as the audience discover the truth, right alongside the doctor.  Strang has created a sort of religion, and the horses, whom he calls Equus, are his god, running parallel to Jesus.  The chains and the bit in the mouth of the horse represent the chains that Christ wore on His wrists, and the thorns on his brow.  In one revealing scene, we see Strang riding bareback (and naked) through a field.  His relationship and his worship of Equus is very sensual, which is why when he experiences the opportunity of love with Jill, it terrifies him – as if he has sinned against his god.  Not only that, but it is as if Strang believes himself to BE a horse.

 

If you love the play or have a morbid curiosity toward it, I would highly suggest seeing this film.  If you are an art lover and want to stretch your mind a bit, I would also recommend it.  For the rest of us, however, you might want to watch something a little more tame.

 

Sources: MGM, ToutLeCineIMDBRotten TomatoesPicturenoseChandler Swain ReviewsI Love PhilosophyDave’s Movie Reviews

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