Wise Blood (1979)

Wise Blood (1979), directed by John Huston.


Your conscience is a trick, it don't exist, and if you think it does, then you had best get it out in the open, hunt it down and kill it.

Two things I can't read: true crime and Flannery O'Connor. Both give me the heebie-jeebies.

Returning from the army, Hazel Motes finds his farm house wrecked and abandoned, nothing left but the graveyard. He heads to the city to "do things I ain't done before". For some reason everyone presumes he's a preacher. Although he claims to believe in nothing, he forms his own "church", which means delivering bitterly angry, hopeless harangues to strangers. He does believe in mortification: "Why? It don't matter why."

It has the ghastly southern gothic feel, this time in contemporary urban settings where the Depression never left. I won't attempt theological analysis, other than to note that the human soul has energies that will come out, one way or another.

We have dark comic relief in Hazel's struggles with his junk car, and with Sabbath Lily's use of her meager charms to land a man. I might have cut lonely half-wit Enoch and his fascination with monkeys, but I see from an outline that he's in the book.

Depending on how comical you find the pathetic human condition there might be more to laugh at while wincing at the same time. I feel mean when I do.

Great cast. Brad Dourif specialized in weirdo roles and there will never be another Harry Dean Stanton.

I never saw much of Amy Wright's work (she was the groupie in Woody Allen's bed in Stardust Memories (1980)) but I can't stop looking at her when she's on screen. Her character isn't pretty or smart but the portrayal is magnetic.

Alex North score, variations on the "Tennessee Waltz" and "Gift to be Simple". Photographed by Gerry Fisher -- The Offence (1972), Juggernaut (1974), The Ninth Configuration (1980).

Criterion DVD.