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Behind the Lines

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Cast
Jonathan Pryce, James Wilby, Jonny Lee Miller, Stuart Bunce, Tanya Allen, David Hayman, Dougray Scott, John Neville, Paul Young, Alastair Galbraith, Eileen Nicholas, Julian Fellowes
Released
1998
William Halse Rivers Rivers | Siegfried Sassoon | Lewis Yealland
Spoiler alert
Blog entry

Based on the Pat Barker novel Regeneration, the film, set during World War I, follows Dr. William Rivers, a psychiatrist, and his treatment of several officers suffering from war neurosis (now called Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) at Craiglockhart War Hospital near Edinburgh (0:04). The story is based in fact, and most of the characters were real.

Perhaps Rivers' most famous patient, Siegfried "Mad Jack" Sassoon, a published poet and decorated soldier, protests the war when he believes its pursuit has become immoral. Suffering from nightmares but no other signs of "war neurosis," and not really mentally ill, authorities send him to the psychiatric hospital in order to stifle and discredit him (0:05).

A patient scales the fence surrounding the hospital, but encounters another patient huddling, bloodied and agitated, surrounded by the gamekeeper's dead animals and desperately clutching an object, a knife? (0:16)

In the hospital we see patients resting in the day room (0:05), the psychiatrists conducting rounds (0:30).

Officer Prior suffers from mutism and Dissociative Amnesia. We can track his progress during several sessions with Rivers (0:13, 0:33). Rivers and a nurse find Prior trying to scratch his way out through a wall, apparently during a nightmare, the content of which he does not recall the next day (0:18).  Would you diagnose REM sleep behavior disorder or Sleepwalking Disorder? Rivers discusses mutism and "stammering" during a session with Prior (0:48). Prior agrees to hypnosis by Rivers in order to help him recall events immediately before he stopped talking (0:52). He recalls in the trenches, after a shell blows up a man in his unit, picking up the man's eyeball from the ground. (0:55)

Sassoon tells Owen that Sassoon's brother Hamo died at Gallipoli. (0:25)

As the story unfolds we see Rivers may suffer from vicarious traumatization as he listens to stories of horror from the trenches. He tells his own physician he is "getting shell shocked by my patients." He describes a dream in which relives his research with Sir Henry Head, the neurologist. He talks about fatigue (the subject of actual research by the real Dr. Rivers), stress, and powerlessness. (1:03)

While on leave in London Dr. Rivers observes another physician (Lewis Yealland?) "treating" traumatic mutism by applying noxious electrical stimuli to the mouth and larynx of a soldier, effectively torturing him until he resumes normal speech (1:06). Did psychiatrists actually employ this technique? Was it an attempt to root out malingering?

Rivers tells Prior, "Everybody who survives feels guilty" (1:20).