Movie News & Reviews

Check into 'Hospital' for daily dose of malaise

As much as I like movies made in and about the '70s, I think I'd have hated to live then. I mean, just think about how sweet we got it now. I don't think they even had texting in the '70s. Meanwhile, we get all the Transformers sequels we can watch, which for the 9 percent of us without a job adds up to a heck of a lot of Transformers

Yep. As bad as things might look right now, at least we're better than the '70s. All the proof you need is films from the era like 1971's The Hospital.

George C. Scott is the medical director of a hospital where the doctors have started dying--in accidents that may not be accidents. Already suicidal, he's considering packing it in when he meets Diana Rigg, a patient's relative who offers Scott a way out of his urban hell.

Much of what I know of American culture from before I was born comes from two sources: Bloom County and The Simpsons. Man, I don't envy you older people. It must have been really hard getting anywhere with just two dimensions. Given this situation, my only exposure to once-prominent figures like George C. Scott was from The Simpsons' film short "Man Getting Hit By Football," which involves Scott, Scott's groin, a football, and the inevitable meeting that -- well, now I'm getting into spoiler territory.

So seeing Scott in The Hospital was a revelation. He earned an Oscar nomination for his performance only to be beaten by Gene Hackman in The French Connection. Well, OK, but if there were an Oscar for "Best Actor in a Sweaty, Boozy, Bellowing Rage," Scott would have won in a landslide.

That's partly because of all the monologues he gets. Monologues are to good actors what squid food is to squids. But Paddy Chayefsky's strong script isn't the only thing at work here. Prolific director Arthur Hiller builds a suffocating atmosphere of urban rot and bureaucratic nightmares, a place where people are dying because nobody else can bother to tell anyone else what's going on. In so doing, he successfully predicted your average World of Warcraft raid.

In other words, The Hospital is a dark, existential satire that feels like a perfect time capsule of the post-'60s hangover. Between the distrust of institutions, the racial tensions, soulful Native Americans, and appeals to the simple purity of life in the mountains of Mexico, it seems poised to be a claustrophobic if somewhat pat takedown of older American values. Then The Hospital subverts its own subversion, rebuking the recent past to confront an uneasy future.