Sidney Lumet’s Equus hit theaters in 1977. I think it’s safe to assume that audiences weren’t quite prepared for what they witnessed. This is not easy material to digest. Some will love it, and others will loathe it. However, those who find themselves on its wavelength will never forget it. For me, personally, it stands as one of the greatest stage to screen adaptations that I have ever seen.
Based on the play of the same name by Peter Shaffer, it features powerful performances from Richard Burton and Peter Firth. Equus is a brilliant and horrifying study of religious upbringing going awry.
When seventeen year old stable boy, Alan Strang, inexplicably blinds six horses one dark night, he is sent to a mental health facility and is placed under the care of Dr. Martin Dysart. As the doctor begins to plumb the depths of Strang’s severely fractured psyche, he realizes that the boy has concocted his own religion, fashioned out of his mother’s contorted biblical teachings and his worship-like admiration of horses, the latter of which carries a deep-seeded erotic element.
As a result of his intense sessions with Alan, Dysart becomes jealous of the young man – this boy that seemingly harbors so much passion within him, whose mind is capable of beautiful and terrible things. In some ways, Dysart feels cheated, as if he has sacrificed his greater self to a life of monotony, trapped in a loveless marriage, and a life devoid of danger and mystery.
But the fact still remains that Alan is just a frightened young boy, irreparably scarred. And Dysart desperately tries to save him from this self-made purgatory, this horse-god named Equus – all of the self-flagellating torment that this young man can no longer endure.
And Dysart will not emerge from this abyss unscathed.
This is dense, controversial material – not really fit for mainstream audiences. The graphic full frontal male and female nudity in the film was shocking upon the release of the film in the seventies, but in keeping the nudity, it stays true to the source material. Aside from the nudity, the overall intensity of the piece is enough to unnerve even the most jaded viewers.
Both Richard Burton and Peter Firth were nominated for Oscars for their extraordinary work here. It only helps that Firth and Burton were both in the stage play prior to the making of the film. Joan Plowright, Colin Blakely, and Jenny Agutter all turn in magnificent performances as well.
Twilight Time’s Blu-ray of Equus features an isolated score, a commentary track, and a two-hour documentary on the work of Richard Burton. This release has been limited to 3,000 copies.