The film begins with a little variety show entitled Titicut Follies. There are three men with streamers, hats, and matching outfits. It looks like a lame little show you might see at a kid’s restaurant or a summer camp. Then we take notice of the face of the man on the left.

The camera moves in on him and we realize that something is not right with this man. The little show finishes and we see a few lethargic and out of touch men before we settle on a young man in an interview with a psychiatrist. The young man is here because he has molested young girls. The psychiatrist is asking him questions about masturbation and homosexual experiences while this poor man sits there without any apparent hope of being cured by this quack or this place. But what is this place: a mental hospital? a prison for the criminally insane? The film doesn’t tell us till the very end. Instead, documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman lets us figure it out as we wander through this chamber of horrors.

The primary focus of Wiseman’s camera is on the relationship between the keepers and the patients. Some of the keepers seem to genuinely want to help, but have no clue what they are doing while others outright antagonize the patients to their face or say one thing to them and then turn around play with their medication. It appears to be standard operating procedure to keep the prisoners naked in solitary cells unless they are in the common areas.

This isn’t a place where people come to get better, they just wander in their own madness. They enter, meet with psychiatrists, take their meds, maybe participate in the variety show, and bury friends till they’re the one going under. I haven’t been this disturbed since I watched Brakhage’s The Act Of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes. At the end of the film, we get these two title cards:

It’s a tough one, but if you can make it through, I recommend it.

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