February 19, 1980 [Wise Blood]

Hazel Motes in Wise Blood is caught putting stones in his shoes and wrapping barbed wire around his chest. His landlady tells him, “It’s not natural,” and he disagrees--so she counters with, “Well, it’s not normal. It’s like one of them gory stories, it’s something people have quit doing--like boiling in oil or being a saint or walling up cats.” But he tells her, “I’m not clean”--and so he keeps on doing it, “into the dark tunnel where he had disappeared.”

John Huston’s movie, a gory story of something people keep doing, burns a clean hole straight through the book, piercing it, opening a way through it--and even though I'm convinced that the movie version of a book--or play, or anything--has no responsibility to the source, thank God that Brad Dourif as Hazel Motes thinks otherwise. We all want to laud him as Billy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but he does something monumental here--I cannot overstate it--as though he had lifted an entire world--O’Connor’s--oh, maybe it’s mine, maybe all of ours--and bears it, keeps it spinning.

Motes is pursued by a Hound of Heaven, and runs blindly into sainthood--that is, he disappears into his own refusal, until it becomes a kind of lust, deadly holy. And Dourif lets us see it, his eyes more than haunted--possessed, as though God had become a devil that needs driving out. And as funny as it gets--and Huston knows O’Connor’s sense of humor--Dourif hunches his skull down into his shoulders and stares us down, quiets our nervous laughter, and wrings unexpected pity from us, watching crazy Hazel blind to the light.


  1. I've seen almost 500 of the films on the Criterion Collection.

    And yet I haven't seen this film yet.

    I must remedy this problem...

  2. It is Dourif's greatest Moment of Clarity as an actor--although he never lets us down, not even when he's cooing over an Alien hybrid-thing.

  3. Love Wise Blood, and that is the greatest cinematic hat since Chaplin.

  4. Yes, a great hat--almost as good as Kurt R.'s hat in Carpenter's "The Thing."


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