John Carpenter’s 2010 film “The Ward” is clearly not his best work. In fact, it’s pretty bad.
However, I can’t help but be fascinated by this damn thing. I’m not even 100% sure why? But I do believe there’s something interesting simmering just below its surface.
The film begins with a young woman (whom we later learn is…) named Kristen being brought (unwillingly) to a psychiatric hospital in a town called North Bend, Oregon in 1966. We just witnessed her setting fire to, what looks like, an abandoned house to me. But since it IS an act of vandalism and (perhaps? some kind of…) violent anarchy? I suppose some kind of punishment is in order! But a ‘psych ward’? Why not jail? I don’t know? they never show her being examined by a doctor, she just winds up in a ‘loony bin’! Seems a little odd, but fine, let’s go along with the story. Perhaps she’s there because of some mistake?
Before long we learn the other girls in this psyche-ward (and there are ONLY girls here, it’s like “Girl, Interrupted” in this respect, but ONLY in this respect!) seem to be ‘archetypes’ and we’re introduced to them all: the ‘baby’, the ‘nymph’, the ‘artist’ and the ‘prankster’. But there’s no real specific ‘illness’ attributed to any of them. I mean, we know they’re supposed to be ‘insane’ in some way and some of them ‘act out’ in (mildly) ‘crazy’ ways. But we get no specifics. Most of them seem like they’re there against their will.
Kristen tries constantly to fight her captors and rally her fellow patients to escape. None of them seem remotely interested in helping her, nor all that motivated to resist. Eventually, Kristen hears about a girl who was in the room she occupies and that something happened to her. Kristen can’t get anyone to even say the prior girl’s name and she then sees and is perpetually haunted by some kind of female ghoul (?) and predictably, nobody believes her, not even her fellow patients.
The nurses aren’t quite “Nurse Ratched types”, but they’re certainly not warm either. The male orderlies seem rough and vaguely like they might be sexual predators.
Throughout the film we see these very brief, short clips of a young girl (about 10 yrs. old?) chained up in a basement being tortured and sexually assaulted by…some one? One clip shows the silhouette of a man entering the basement, unbuckling his pants and approaching the shackled pre-pubescent girl. It’s clearly a ‘flashback’, but we don’t know which girl she’s meant to represent…yet!
Well, after Kristen is attacked by the ghoulish girl figure in the showers, everyone finally seems to reveal that they know what she’s talking about, but are intentionally keeping quiet about it.
That night, Kristen fakes taking her meds and attempts to escape, but is ultimately caught in the end. At this point, the (until now) benevolent ‘chief head shrinker’ of the ward, suddenly turns none to benevolent at all and has Kristen forcibly restrained and given electric shock treatment as punishment for her insolence. Afterwards the orderlies throw her, like a rag doll, on the bed in her ‘cell’…
“They should do this to all the patients!”, says one orderly to the other.
What we learn eventually, is that ALL the girls in this psyche-ward are, in fact, different personalities of the same girl. A girl named, curiously, Alice. This includes Kristen, the girl originally in her room and even the ‘ghoul girl’…they’re all fragments of Alice’s fractured psyche, which leads to my main theory of the film…
I believe the film is a metaphor and slightly veiled commentary on the government’s use of mind control programs. Perhaps Carpenter is trying to tell a story which is a metaphor for the 1950s and 60s government MK Ultra program?
I think that’s exactly what he’s doing!
We know John Carpenter can be a political filmmaker. His late 80s film, “They Live” is an absolute, barely disguised critique of society and the controlling hand of the U.S. government, through the use of a simple Sci-fi movie about alien invasion. So, I don’t think it’s a stretch that this film may be a comment and critique of the US government’s mind control programs. Only this time, within the simple frame-work of a ‘psychological horror’ theme. In fact I believe Carpenter is making a similar commentary as Stanley Kubrick did with “Eyes Wide Shut”, though admittedly not as clever or as well executed; but it’s not fair to compare any filmmaker to Stanley Kubrick, he was clearly a genius!
But essentially, I think Carpenter is displaying a similar theme?
See, this film takes place at the peak of the government’s MK Ultra program: late 50s early 60s. The main character in the film is a female (brought to the hospital in the late ’50s) which leads me to believe the film is not just about mind control, but more specifically the MK Ultra program (supposedly) responsible for creating female ‘sex slaves’ with the express purpose of ‘pimping out’ to powerful men in high office; major politicians. These gals, who’re ‘pimped out’ to politicians were known as “presidential models”. As in, they were (quite literally) used as personal sex toys to presidents. While the MK Ultra program has been admitted to by our government, not so the ‘sex slave’ angle. It’s still a controversial theory. Some say it never took place at all, others claim it happened to them personally! *For further info, read the book: “Trance-Formation of America” by Cathy O’Brien. She claims to have had sex with nearly every president and politician since Gerald Ford! The very first claim of this variety was in the late 1950s early 60s by radio personality (the Art Bell of his day) “Long” John Nebil’s wife: Candy Jones (former fashion model and radio host in her own right). “Long John” put his wife under hypnosis when she was having ‘issues’ and didn’t know how else to help her. Well, what happened was that, while under trance, she revealed this incredible story of mind control and multiple personalities (before the government even admitted they were engaged in such acts, it should be noted). She claimed one of her personalties was the ‘presidential model’. In addition, she claimed other personalities were used as a government spy, some to seduce enemy agents, others to steal covert Intel and still more to smuggle drugs and contraband into and out of the U.S. and foreign countries. All the while, she was completely unaware this had been done to her, nor did she remember what she said while under hypnosis…essentially, she was (supposedly) mind controlled to ‘please’ those in governmental power.
Seem far-fetched? Perhaps? Not so much, when you consider the U.S. Government actually admitted to doing non-consent, trance, hypnosis, drug and torture experiments on thousands and thousands of its citizens!
Many controversial and infamous figures, people like: writer (and Merry Prankster) Ken Kesey, Robert Hunter (singer songwriter, Grateful Dead pal), Timothy Leary (Psychologist and psychedelics advocate), Ted Kaczynski (the uni-bomber!), James “Whitey” Bulger (notorious Boston gangster) and even (perhaps) Sirhan Sirhan all took part in MK Ultra LSD experiments, Kesey and Hunter at Stanford, Kaczynski and Leary while at Harvard and Bulger when locked up at Leavenworth…where it’s also claimed Charlie Manson was a subject! (It should be noted here, that all of the above people mentioned, volunteered for these “experiments”…not so for many, many others!)
All the hallmarks of CIA government mind control appear in the film. The female victim of MK Ultra mind control is almost always sexually assaulted and physically tortured from a young age; as a way of inducing multiple personalties. Parts of this were admitted by our government. The use of trauma and torture to (metaphorically) split the psyche of their subject open, fracturing the mind and (attempting to…) create multiple personalities. They would then use those different personalities for various purposes and ‘secret operations’ (something like a Manchurian Candidate). This is classic ‘text book’ Mind Control programming.
Well, eventually we learn in the film that the main character, Kristen, is really the girl named Alice. Reminding me immediately of, Alice in Wonderland, which I’m told is a commonly used source material in the programming of mind control slaves. Lewis Carroll’s text, it’s said, was used by the government in the conditioning and programming process. To me, this was a clear wink and a nod from Carpenter as a direct reference to government mind control/sex slave programming.
*As an interesting (and perhaps creepy) side note, I know for a fact that Scientology also uses Carroll’s texts in (what they refer to as…) their ‘TR rundowns’ or Training Routines-which would take a whole post in itself to explain…anyway, another time perhaps?
When you group all the details here; the fact the film takes place in a psychiatric hospital, in the late 1950s early 60s no less, with a young girl who has been traumatized and tortured as a young girl (we learn that Alice was, in fact, the girl chained and tortured in the basement, the same house the Kristen part of her burned down in the beginning!) her psyche is fragmented into several different personalities-all those ‘archetypes’ she encounters as other patients-the psyche-ward’s lounge is like the interior of her mind. Rape, sexual torture, drugs and physical abuse were all used on Alice and it clearly fragmented her mind. Yet, it seems she’s continuing to be traumatized (re-traumatized?) by the very psychiatric institution she’s (supposedly) being “helped” by and here it could be stated the institution is attempting to end her mind control programming-for good! We watch as her fractured personalities (the female archetypes) are slowly killed off, ‘slasher style’ by Alice, who psychologically kills her multiple personalities off…by the use of (an additional personality) the female ghoul of the film, until eventually the character we were following as our protagonist, Kristen, is ‘murdered’ by the ‘ghoul girl’. It would seem (according to what those who’ve undergone MK programming) that Alice has out-lived her usefulness to the government (the people we see as her parents could also be-what is know as-‘handlers’, it’s said mind control ‘handlers’ are often parents; who sell their children to the government for total use of mind, body and soul) as subjects of MK programming claim girls either ‘age out’ or become risks to the program by becoming ‘psychotic’ and then get “reprogrammed” and in the film, Alice is, apparently, at this stage, brought back to the hospital for ‘reprogramming’ or to have her mind washed clean.
Towards the end of the film, the Kristen persona jumps out the window to her death while the ‘ghoul girl’ attacks her and she awakens to find she has returned to her ‘primary’ personality: Alice. It’s then that we’re introduced to her parents, who’re told by the doctor she’s been ‘cured’. Yet, the last shot of the film shows Alice (while leaving for good) glancing in the mirror and, without warning, the ‘Kristen’ persona appears in the mirror, crashes through it and grabs Alice pulling her inside. This has three separate metaphors to impart. First, it tells us Alice hasn’t been ‘reprogrammed’ properly and Kristen (the rebellious aspect of Alice’s nature) is still there, inside her. Second, the mirror imagery is an important one in mind control programming. It’s generally understood that mind control slaves are taught to stare into mirrors as a method to induce trance and bring out one of their multiples. Third and last, there’s the obvious allusion to “Alice’s Adventures Through the Looking Glass” Lewis Carroll’s follow up to “Alice in Wonderland”. Alice has, quite literally, gone through the looking glass here.
I must discuss the ‘head doctor’ in the film, who (in my opinion) represents a real life, despicable Doctor. Donald Ewen Cameron, a Scots psychologist who was made head of a large psychiatric hospital (McGill’s Allan Memorial Hospital) in Canada by the CIA/U.S. government to torture, abuse and essentially do as he so pleased to the poor bastards at his mercy with no consent from the patients at all. Many of his victims (make no mistake, these were victims) never recovered their minds ever again and were permanently destroyed for the rest of their lives. *I saw video of one of Dr. Cameron’s former patients (a grown man) break down in uncontrollable sobbing while recounting his (brief) time in the “hospital”. And he was one of the lucky ones! Dr. Cameron used electric shock, powerful drugs, just as the doctor in the film played by Jared Harris (also of Scots descent) used similar “tools”. Dr Cameron indulged in unspeakable and insidious methods to ‘crack the mind’ of his patients, for the express purpose and use of our ‘fine’ government. This should never be forgotten and aught to be remembered as one of the most embarrassing in the annals of U.S history. We, as a nation, mustn’t forget these deeds actually took place! Doctors literally engaged in torture, sadistic, cruel and experimental (often permanent) damage to patients minds and souls! We also know that Cameron seemed to have no compunction about doing this for the last part of his professional life. Oddly, Cameron was a vehement anti-nazi, who claimed he conducted these experiments to (somehow) combat Nazism…? I’m reminded here of Nietzsche: “be careful when staring into the abyss, as the abyss may stare back at you!” Cameron clearly stared long and hard into the abyss!
In contrast to Dr. Cameron was a Dr. Sidney Gottlieb. Also hired by our government, the CIA, to (again, without consent) mind-fuck CIA agents, sneaking LSD into their cocktails (which resulted in the known suicide of at least one agent, Frank Olson, a fact that wasn’t divulged to his wife for thirty years!), prostitutes, drug addicts, the homeless, mental patients, prisoners and others without recourse. However, Gottlieb eventually (after retiring from the government’s despicable program) admitted what they had engaged in was ultimately totally useless. He seemed troubled and conscience stricken by his deeds-for he then turned humanitarian-studying Buddhism, Hinduism and retiring to an environmentally efficient goat farm in Virginia where he and his wife made yogurt. Eventually, they moved to India where he helped the sick, less-fortunate and dying, giving freely of himself until his dying day…the victim of a guilty conscience, no doubt!
Yes, our country committed these acts…and these are the ones they are willing to admit to. Can you imagine what they keep hidden?
I’d suggest watching “The Ward”, not because it’s a great movie, because it really isn’t…ignore (if you can?) the silly junk…it’s really non-essential to the point of the film anyway. Instead, watch and see if you can locate references to MK Ultra and mind control. Perhaps you’ll find much more than I did? Once I noticed the symbols, it became a far more interesting movie. Not enough to elevate my rating of the film above sub-mediocre level. However, it was exciting to know John Carpenter still has a bit of that old “Hollywood-Left” hippie, politico in him.
*Happy (belated) Birthday, John Carpenter…his birthday was in January I know, but I was so lazy and dragged my heels on this post for so long, I only finished it today. But whatever, it’s not like I’m on a deadline (or paid!)…so, fuck it!