R.D. LAING tells of a young girl, classified insane, who is examined by the well-known psychiatrist Kraepelin. He tries to stop her movements; he stands in front of her with arms outspread; he pricks her with a needle--all common tests for the reactions of the mentally ill. But if we take Kraepelin's acts out of the context of the clinical exam as experienced and defined by him, "how extraordinary they are!"
The ward doctor in Hurry Tomorrow, a documentary about psychiatric treatment in a state mental hospital, radiates the same uncertain blend of lunacy and expertise. "As soon as a patient stops insisting that he should be released," the doctor explains, "he'll be discharged."
Hurry Tomorrow is less about the social origins or definitions of sanity then how provisionally-crazy people, once they're committed, are driven crazier. A black patient, for example, was told when he arrived at the hospital from jail that his charges would be dismissed; later he's led to believe that he had been confused--or crazy. Others are more bluntly lied to.
Almost no real psychiatry goes on in this maze of aseptic corridors just south of Los Angeles. Instead doctors and med techs run a jerry-rigged system of forced drug use. The drugs are injected through the ass, a practice suspiciously similar to rape and certainly as humiliating, or mixed in dour little cups which are set out each morning with patients' names on them. The Norwalk State Hospital's addiction to drugs is punctuated by scenes from a convention of pharmaceutical companies where doctors windowshop for chemicals. One drug-company salesman happily sums it up: "We're out of the war business--now we're in the health business!"
The ward doctor himself, who looks like an authoritarian Alan Watts, admits that "Though we do not over-medicate patients...everybody needs a little to get to sleep." Patients soon forget, or lose interest in, which of their symptoms are drug-induced and which self-produced. One describes experiencing an "atomic war" in his room; most likely it was the heat and intense light of the ward, refracted through a double dosage of thorazine.
This Fred Weissman-style documentary with its grainy images, cluttered sound, and footage "wasted" on such things as doors being opened and shut, is peculiarly fit to study a madhouse. It is certainly more so than a plush feature like One Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest.
But one wonders whether Hurry Tomorrow entirely captures Norwalk, given the film's preoccupation with injections, with hallucinating patients roped to their beds and tranquilized men watching TV in an eerie "rec room." At times the directors try to clarify why patients have been committed; interviews with the doctor often show the reasons to be circumstantial or vague. Yet we don't get enough of such dialogue.
What Hurry Tomorrow does convey, over and over, is a network of Catch-22's disciplining a doped-up, very vulnerable population. The doctor summarizes it aptly: "If you like it here, you can stay here, and if you don't like it then you'll have to stay here."