From Peter Shaffer’s play Equus, written in 1973 and later adapted into a film directed by Sidney Lumet, starring Richard Burton and Peter Firth. Burton played a psychiatrist investigating a young man played by Firth, who had inexplicably attacked and blinded six horses in a stable where he worked. (Based loosely on a real event.)
I saw the film in 1979, a couple years after its release, and its theme and some key scenes resonated with my perceptions at that time, and deeply informed my thinking, for its theme and investigation into how random events in people’s lives influence their worldviews. Key quote, by Burton’s psychiatrist:
A child is born into a world of phenomena all equal in their power to enslave. It sniffs—it sucks—it strokes its eyes over the whole uncountable range. Suddenly one strikes. Why? Moments snap together like magnets forged in a chain of shackles. Why? I can trace them, I can even with time pull them apart again. But why at the start were they ever magnetized at all. Why those particular moments of experience and no others, I do not know! And nor does ANY BODY ELSE!
And if *I* don’t know, if I can *never* know, what am I doing here? I don’t mean clinically doing, or socially doing, but fundamentally. These whys, these questions, are fundamental. Yet they have no place in a consulting room. So then do I? Do any of us?
Richard Burton’s reading of this in the film is passionate and moving, and he deserved the Oscar that year. (He lost to Richard Dreyfuss in the relatively light-hearted and inconsequential The Goodbye Girl.)
I’ll have more to say about this play’s and film’s themes, in future posts.