Filmsite Movie Review
Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

The Introduction of Catherine's Mother and Brother:

The two reentered the mansion, where they were surprised in the study to encounter Mrs. Grace Holly (Mercedes McCambridge), Catherine's mother, and Catherine's brother George Holly (Gary Raymond), who had let themselves into the house. They had arrived to follow through on Aunt Violet's generous offer to gather up Sebastian's clothes and wardrobe for the college-bound George. Mrs. Holly appeared encouraged that the doctor might be able to help her daughter 'Cathy' ("Doctor, can you help her?") - but was completely unaware of Dr. Cukrowicz' specialty - lobotomies.

Before her relatives departed, Violet noted that Catherine was a "lovely girl" and "delightful," but that she was plagued by insanity: "Madness is the most horrible doom there is on this earth." An incident at a past Mardi Gras celebration was briefly mentioned when a picture was found of the event with Catherine garbed in a ballgown lent to her by Violet. But then the uncomfortable subject was dropped - the dance event had obviously ended poorly.

After the relatives left, Violet underhandedly and ferociously mentioned:

Aren't they awful? Sebastian and I used to speculate on how that family of Neanderthals could have produced a girl as rare as Catherine.

More Secret Details About Sebastian and Catherine Divulged by Violet Venable:

Now, Violet's entire miserable life consisted of brooding in the empty house. She encouraged Dr. Cukrowicz to sit down in Sebastian's rare, 500 year-old court-jester's chair. Miss Foxhill entered at 5 pm sharp to remind Violet to take her medicine and drink a frozen daiquiri by herself. She performed the ritual at 5 pm each evening for her medical condition. When the doctor asked about her failed poet-son Sebastian's death, she matter-of-factedly stated that the previous summer, Sebastian died of a heart attack while his cousin Catherine was traveling with him for the first time in Spain (in the beachside resort town of Cabeza de Lobo). She had taken Mrs. Venable's place as his traveling companion due to Violet's worsening medical condition, to Violet's dismay.

[Note: Mrs. Venable was obviously disturbed that she was no longer Sebastian's choice as a jet-setting traveling companion, because she was no longer attractive (after suffering a disfiguring stroke).]

She then recalled how Catherine's tormenting illness was due to a horrifying event that occurred during their trip. Sebastian's death from a heart attack deeply affected her niece: "It was that day that she lost her mind."

When the doctor asked if she would soon be offering her expected financial gift to the asylum's director Dr. Hockstader (for a new operating room for the Lions View state hospital), he also was sure to mention that her donation was not offered in exchange for Catherine's operation. Violet hinted that her contribution might be delayed until the surgeon decided to interview and diagnose Catherine's condition to determine whether more drastic measures were necessary. She appeared to be pressuring the doctor into performing a lobotomy - to perpetually cover up and erase the truth of Sebastian's closeted and sordid life, to obsessively produce illusory lies about him, and to over-protect him (and his reputation) from the real world. Catherine's sanity was compromised by her atmosphere of deception.

Before their discussion ended as they exited through the garden, Mrs. Venable (standing in front of a full-scale, skeletal stone statue of Death) gestured toward the leafy plants and again repeated her fears of a savage world of "carnivorous creatures":

Millions of years ago, dinosaurs fed on the leaves of those trees. The dinosaurs were vegetarian. That's why they became extinct. They were just too gentle for their size. And then the carnivorous creatures, the ones that eat flesh, the killers, inherited the earth. But then they always do, don't they?

Catherine's Incarceration in a Catholic Sanatorium Known as St. Mary's:

The focus of the film now turned to Catherine, incarcerated in a stark Catholic sanatorium known as St. Mary's since her return from Europe. Catherine was led from her quarters-bedroom up a flight of stairs and through the dining hall to an office-library for questioning by one of the heavy-set attendant nuns - Sister Felicity (Joan Young). Dr. Cukrowicz calmly observed from nearby as Catherine attempted to steal, light and smoke a cigarette. She was caught and accused of disobeying regulations by illegally smoking.

When ordered to turn over the offending cigarette, Catherine spitefully extinguished the lighted end in the palm of the nun's hand, and complained of incessant bullying by the nuns. Dr. Cukrowicz dismissed the Sister to go and receive treatment, and then left alone with the patient, he questioned the combative Catherine during a lengthy interview. Cynical and hateful, she admitted that she was deliberately acting in a crazy and tormented manner to prove the many accusations about her mental instability and violence-prone behavior:

I'm classified as violent, which means I'm apt to attack you physically and then accuse you of rape....That's why I'm in isolation. I molested an elderly gardener of great virtue. When he refused my advances, I denounced him as a lecher. After that, I was punished....Of course, I accused him unjustly. After all, I'm insane. It's the sort of thing an insane woman would do.

Dr. Cukrowicz' First Interview With Catherine - Including the Mardi Gras Incident:

To placate her, he allowed her to smoke another cigarette, while she rightly suspected that he was sent by her spiteful Aunt after being unresponsive to traditional treatments. Catherine sarcastically termed her own condition as a "hopeless case," and feared being taken to Lions View and placed in a cage. She noted that her hateful and "merciless" Aunt Violet had maneuvered to keep her quiet and to have her permanently locked up and institutionalized: "Why else do you think I'm here where no one can see me, hear me?" But then Catherine also confirmed that she was mentally stable: "I really do think I am sane despite considerable evidence to the contrary."

According to Catherine, the real problem was Violet's obsessive love for her son Sebastian and its destructive effect on her own marriage:

Sebastian was a vocation, not a man. Poor Aunt Vi was hooked from the beginning. Loved Sebastian from the beginning and nobody else. She gave up everything for Sebastian. Even her husband...Aunt Vi let her husband die because of Sebastian. Killed him, some people thought.

Catherine described how one summer, Sebastian left the "torments" of the real world and traveled to Tibet in the Himalayas to become a Buddhist monk: ("He shaved his head, was given a wooden bowl to beg rice with and was happy"). To persuade him to return home, the distraught Aunt Violet arrived to join him, take vows, and live in a hut, while her husband was sick and ailing back home. Under Sebastian's manipulative spell, she ignored her husband and he died: "She chose to let her husband die alone."

She then began to describe her own 'hooked' relationship with the very charming and irresistible Sebastian and how she allowed herself to be "used" by him. But first, she described the earlier-referenced Mardi Gras Ball incident (at the Roosevelt Hotel ballroom) that was her earliest recalled memory during the previous springtime, just before she left for Europe with Sebastian. In summary:

  • she attended the Mardi Gras ball with a date - "a boy who got too drunk to stand up"
  • when she asked to be returned home (her date was too inebriated), she was unable to pick up her Aunt's borrowed silver fox wrap in the cloak-room, and another unfamiliar man she didn't know offered to drive her
  • instead of taking her home, he drove her to a place known as 'Dueling Oaks' - a secluded area where he forced her to have sex
  • as the stranger returned her to her home, he told her an "awful thing" - that he already had a pregnant wife: "We'd better forget it. My wife's expecting a child."
  • in the house after realizing how upset she was, she returned in a taxi to the Mardi Gras ballroom, where she caused a huge "scene" by retaliating against the man who had 'stolen her honor'; she beat him in the face and chest with her fists
  • she was subdued when her cousin Sebastian pulled her away, but remained "tormented" by the memory

The subject changed back to her feelings about Sebastian - who was presumably a closeted homosexual: "He liked me, so I loved him....The only way he'd accept." She said she was on a mission to save her cousin from "completing a sort of image he had of himself as a sort of a sacrifice to a terrible sort of a (God)? Sebastian, who was gentle, kind, saw something not gentle, not kind, in the universe. Something terrible in himself."

Fragmented Recollections of Catherine and Sebastian in Cabeza de Lobo - Sebastian's Summer Death Locale:

In bits and pieces, Catherine began to describe her own account of what had happened the previous summer with her homosexual cousin, when they traveled together to Cabeza de Lobo, where Sebastian had allegedly died of a heart attack. After his death, Catherine became "hysterical, taut" (in her words), and lost her memory of what happened and what she had said. Catherine's preliminary account was illustrated by impressionistic auditory flashbacks when she started talking about her fragmented recollections of being at the beach:

The beach was very white. Oh, how the sun burned. It was like the eye of God watching us. Burning, burning. There was no air that day. The sun had burned up all the air. Outside it was like inside a furnace. Then they came....from all parts of the beach. And that awful noise they made. The noise of musical instruments all made of tin....And that, that music. That awful music.

But then her mind went blank as she struggled to remember more, and she cried out: "SEBASTIAN, HELP!" She raced around the room, lamenting: "I can't remember...but I have to, I want to," before falling into the doctor's arms for comfort. She asked for help from the doctor to recall her troubling experience from the last summer ("Will you help me?"), supplemented by a tender and "friendly kiss." He assured her: "Whatever's true we'll find." As she was leaving the room, she asked whether she could dress more attractively after being transferred to Lions View: "I want you to know that I can look attractive. if I had my hair done and - when I'm at Lions View, may I wear a pretty dress?"

Catherine Transferred as a Patient From St. Mary's to Lions View For Further Observation:

Meanwhile, as they looked over from a balcony over to a vacant lot (with old tires, tin cans, and other trash) adjacent to the asylum, Dr. Hockstader spoke to Dr. Cukrowicz about Mrs. Venable's repeated promise of an endowed financial grant of $1 million dollars to Lions View to construct a new psychosurgery building dedicated in the late Sebastian's memory. There were "no strings attached" to her gift, although she expected Dr. Cukrowicz to operate on her niece. The doctor was less sure and confident of an operation for Catherine. However, it was speculated that an operation might be the only means to unlock Catherine's blocked memory after the "dreadful" experience she had: ("And she refuses to allow herself to remember. She's gonna have to be made to remember it"). Dr. Cukrowicz was informed that Catherine had been admitted to Lions View, and was in her room. He had accommodated her with two risky and "unorthodox" stipulations:

  • she was being housed in the nurse's wing in her own room (not in the main ward)
  • she was allowed to wear her own fashionable clothes so that she wouldn't feel like a patient ("I want her to feel she's free of restrictions, and free of being watched")

In the hallway, the doctor ran into a very-nervous, avaricious Mrs. Holly and her son George who had come to visit Catherine. He daughter was dressed up to see them in a pretty, Parisian black dress. They spoke about Violet's devastated reaction to Sebastian's death at Cabeza de Lobo:

It nearly killed Violet...You didn't see her the way I did, grievin', grievin' like a mad-woman. I mean, like her heart would break. He was her whole life, you see. She worshipped the ground beneath his feet.

However, they were more interested in meeting privately with Catherine to have her sign some required business papers. It was revealed that Sebastian had left them a considerable sum of money in a "thoughtful" will ($100,000 total to the two of them), but the receipt of the funds by them was contingent upon Aunt Violet getting the Hollys to sign papers to commit Catherine to Lions View. It was Violet's intense desire to silence Catherine's 'crazy babblings' about Sebastian and allow a lobotomy ("the little operation") to be performed. Catherine was horrified and begged for them not to sign the papers, as she described the mind-numbing brain operation: ("In cases of hopeless lunacy, he bores holes into the skull and operates on the brain!").

She became so alarmed that she attempted to escape out of the room and down the hallway. She found herself on a suspended catwalk above the male patients' recreational area and day-room. The men (obviously insane with twitching faces, leering glances, and disturbed smiles) reached out to grope her legs and attempted to climb up onto the catwalk, forcing her back into her hospital room with Dr. Cukrowicz. Distressed, she asked the doctor: "Where will you cut my brain, Doctor? In front or further back?," and worried about having her hair shaved, but he answered that his mind wasn't made up about going through with the operation.

Catherine provided more rambling thoughts and hints about Sebastian during his last days, as she was sedated with an injection by a male orderly:

  • he was tired of dark-hairs and brunettes and "famished for blondes," and therefore booked their trip to include "blonde northern countries"
  • he talked about people as if they were items on a menu: ("That one's delicious-looking. That one's appetizing")
  • he often called Catherine "little bird" - and promised that they would see the Aurora Borealis ("the cold northern lights")
  • she asked herself: 'Who said: "We're all of us children in a vast kindergarten trying to spell God's name with the wrong alphabet blocks?"'

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