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

The Arrival of Mrs. Venable at Lions View - and More Revelations About Sebastian:

A long black limousine pulled up outside Lions View Asylum carrying Mrs. Venable. Dr. Cukrowicz escorted her into the asylum's sun-room where she presented him with a gift of one of aspiring poet Sebastian's small poetry notebooks. He had apparently been suffering from writer's block, and the pages had essentially gone blank. He had numerous poem volumes, each titled "Poem of Summer" with only one poem in each volume. According to Violet, Sebastian wrote only one poem a year - one for each summer that he traveled together with Violet. The other nine months of the year were only a preparation. He had ceased writing the summer that he died: "Doctor, he wrote no poem last summer....Without me, he died. That was his last summer's poem." She stated that his death was simply a heart attack, and that there was a death certificate.

The doctor pressured Mrs. Venable to talk about Sebastian's "personal" (sex) life. He was told that Sebastian was absolutely celibate: "He was chaste" - and added "as strictly as if he'd taken a vow." With an overblown view of her own importance, she insisted that she was the only one who could meet all of Sebastian's needs: ("I was actually the only one in his life that satisfied the demands he made of people").

After Catherine awoke from her sedation, she criticized her Aunt for forcing her mother and brother into signing her 'commitment papers' while "holding $100,000 dollars under Mother and George's poor greedy noses." Violet attempted to leave, but was corralled into gathering in the sun-room with Catherine to listen to more of her account of how Sebastian had selected her to go abroad with him for the summer - he had, in fact, insisted because Violet was older and no longer physically-attractive (and had suffered an "hysterical stroke"). When asked if she had fallen in love with Sebastian, Catherine answered: "I tried to give him what you had always given him: The tender understanding and the love," but Violet insisted that only her tender care and love was truly life-sustaining.

Catherine described how the predatory Sebastian had used her (and earlier Violet's) youthful and seductive beauty as a ploy or decoy to make contacts. She described how both were used as pimps or like a firefly - to attract and lure males closer to Sebastian for his own pleasure (and for sexual favors):

Sebastian only needed you while you were still useful...I mean young, able to attract...Sebastian left her home like a toy he tired of. And he took me with him like a new toy. On his last voyage...We were decoys...For Sebastian. He-he used us as bait. When she was no longer able to lure the better fish into the net, he let her go...We procured for him. She used to do it in the smart, fashionable places they went to before last summer. Sebastian was shy with people, she wasn't. Neither was I. But we both did the same thing for him. We both made contacts for him...We were nothing but a pair of...

[Note: It was unspoken, due to censorship issues, that Sebastian was gay and was forced to use attractive women to help him meet possible homosexual male partners. When Violet became too old for procurement purposes, he turned to the younger and more attractive Catherine. He had first noticed Catherine's power of attractiveness at the Mardi Gras ball.]

As a result of Catherine's allegations ("obscenities"), Mrs. Venable vehemently objected: ("Doctor! See how she destroys us with her tongue with a hatchet? You've got to cut this hideous story out of her brain") - and then fainted before being given spirits of ammonia and helped to depart by Hockstader. When quickly revived, Mrs. Venable ordered the crippling operation on her cousin to occur immediately: "Tomorrow, I want that girl operated on....I don't want to hear from you again until the operation has been performed."

At the same time, Catherine took advantage of the opportunity to again make an escape attempt. She climbed a spiral staircase, and contemplated committing suicide by throwing herself from the balcony that circled above the females' day-room (as the patients giggled hysterically at her), but she was thwarted in her effort by the male orderly.

Later in Dr. Cukrowicz's office, Dr. Hockstader demanded that Catherine receive the lobotomy - to guarantee the $1 million dollar building for the asylum. He catalogued a list of Catherine's problems to prove her insanity: i.e., inciting the men in the ward to riot, delusions in a Paris clinic about the world devouring her, the rape at Dueling Oaks, her alleged attack on an elderly gardener at St. Mary's, her cigarette-burning incident, and her suicide attempt, but the uncooperative doctor refused to surrender:

Give me one more day to see if I can break through that block to the truth.

He proposed that they all meet again at the Venable house the following day in the jungle-garden - he thought that another injection might be a less-damaging and more preferable cure for Catherine.

The Family Gathering in the Venable's Sun-Room Jungle-Garden:

The next day, the family members and asylum officials assembled at the Venable house and began to gather together in the jungle-garden. Sebastian's death certificate was presented to Dr. Cukrowicz - confirming that he died of a heart attack and fell onto the ground in the hot sun in the "god-forsaken village" where they were vacationing. His "damaged" body was brought back in a sealed coffin.

In the sun-room before entering the garden, Catherine was given what Dr. Cukrowicz termed an injection of a "truth serum" in order to help her overcome all of her "resistance" to remembering the "true story" of what happened that summer. She bluntly answered the doctor's first question: "Why did you try to kill yourself?" She answered:

Isn't that what everybody wants? Me out of the way? Mother and George would get their money. You'd get your building. Aunt Vi...

She interrupted herself and suspiciously asked if the doctor was using hypnosis on her. She took his hands into hers and then fell into his arms, exclaiming: "Hold me, I've been so lonely." She hungrily embraced and then kissed him.

During a long flashback sequence with the others outside in the jungle-garden, she began to recall more and more details about her cousin that she visualized during their summer stay in the Spanish town of Cabeza de Lobo at a posh resort hotel. She had taken her Aunt's place for the trip (Mrs. Venable claimed it was Catherine's idea, not Sebastian's). She gleefully stated: "He helped bring me back to life in Paris, Barcelona, Rome."

She remembered how he cringed one day at her non-sexual touch under the hot noon-day sun:

At Amalfi, high above the Mediterranean, in a garden, I took his arm... It seemed like such a natural thing to do, but he pulled away.... I only did it to try and show my appreciation for his kindness.

She also noted that Sebastian was restless. Violet added that he had not written a 'summer poem' in his blank-paged poetry book. Catherine admitted that she couldn't save Sebastian from his own self-destruction. After Violet accused her niece of murdering Sebastian, Catherine described how Sebastian - who wasn't younger any longer, had switched from nighttime and evening activities to venturing out in the afternoons to a beach that charged admission, right next to the dirty and free public beach. Catherine described how Sebastian had purchased a white one-piece, immodest bathing suit for her that became transparent when it got wet. She became embarrassed when he dragged her into the water in order to attract attention ("I was procuring for him"):

He bought me a bathing suit I didn't want to wear. I laughed. I said, 'I can't wear that. Why, it's a scandal to the jaybirds.'...It was a one-piece bathing suit made of white something. But the water made it transparent. I told him I didn't want to swim in it but he just grabbed my hand and dragged me into the water - all the way in - and I came out looking naked.

Then, when the weather turned warmer and the beaches were more crowded, Sebastian no longer needed to treat Catherine as bait. She was allowed to wear a "decent dark suit" while she wrote postcards and letters, and made journal entries. Later in the day, she would meet Sebastian outside the bathhouses that he was visiting by himself. She described how her cousin again attracted the attention of begging street urchins - "hungry young people that climbed over the fence from the free beach" that he freely gave tips to - "Each day the crowd got bigger, noisier, greedier. At last, we stopped going out there."

The Climactic and Complete Recollection of Sebastian's Death:

Then, with an increasingly hysterical tone, Catherine told about another surreal, blazing white-hot summer afternoon when the sickly, fevered and pale-faced Sebastian was wearing a white silk suit, a white tie, and a white Panama. At their outdoor restaurant table where they took refuge, the sweaty Sebastian was popping pills for his heart condition. Closeby, ravenous beggar boys ("hungry young people" making "gobbling noises with frightful grins" like a "flock of plucked birds") called out for "Pan, Pan" (bread), but were held back by a wire fence. The two were being serenaded by the band of children playing "music" produced by loud playing on percussion instruments, drums and cymbals made with tin cans as they crowded around. It was hinted that these were boys that the "terrified" Sebastian knew or recognized and had earlier exploited (by paying them for homosexual sex?) - and now they were seeking payback or revenge.

When Sebastian complained that he was sick and fled from the restaurant, Catherine called it a "fatal error." Sebastian decided to not follow Catherine's advice to take the street down to the harbor to flag a taxi. Instead, he decided to run up a steep and hilly set of streets. The band of noisy kids followed and gave chase, pursuing and surrounding him - as he gripped his pained chest with "palpatations." Catherine watched as the gang of boys raced after him up the narrow rocky streets as he tried to escape in a panic ("Straight up - that was the only way open").

At the summit of the hill marked by the stone ruins of an ancient temple, the male youths overtook Sebastian as he entered. He screamed just once - and then she screamed in unison with him. The youths literally tore him apart, mutilated him, and devoured him during a cannibalistic homicidal attack. As his outstretched hand was grabbed, she watched his body being ravaged by the angry young boys. They paid no attention to her and let her run down to alert the attention of waiters, police, and other onlookers who raced up to the scene - to find the devoured, chewed-upon remains of Sebastian:

He-he was lying naked on the broken stones. And this you won't believe! Nobody, nobody, nobody could believe it! It looked as if - as if they had devoured him! As if they'd torn or cut parts of him away with their hands, or with knives, or those jagged tin cans they made music with. As if they'd torn bits of him away and stuffed them in their own gobbling mouths! There wasn't a sound anymore. There was nothing but Sebastian, Sebastian lying on those stones, torn and crushed.

Catherine collapsed to the floor sobbing after delivering her full tale of Sebastian's demise. He had been attacked just like the birds that had swooped down on the defenseless young sea turtles as they surged toward the beach. He was NOT, as the death certificate stated, the victim of a heart attack, but had been eaten alive in the bright sunshine.

The Film's Denouement:

After listening to the gut-wrenching tale that was surely the truth, Violet became mad and delusional (imagining that the doctor was her dead son). She believed that she was on one of her summer voyages with Sebastian, as she spoke to Dr. Cukrowicz. He escorted her inside, as she denounced God for being savage and cruel like the "awful, hungry birds" that devoured the young sea turtles:

Of course God is cruel. We didn't need to come to the Encantadas to look at the turtles to find that out, did we? No, we've always known about Him. The savage face He shows to people and the fierce things He shouts. It's all we ever really see or hear of Him now. Nobody seems to know why. The difference is we know about Him, the others don't. That's where we're lucky.

She was the one, not Catherine, who had suffered a mental breakdown (she was unable to accept the truth about her son and his death). Crazed, she told Dr. Cukrowicz as he led her to her elevator lift - and kissed him - before disappearing by ascending up to her illusionary world:

Go rest, my darling. Look out for that fever. I'm going up to see the Captain now and tell him to change our course for home. Oh, Sebastian. What a lovely summer it's been. Just the two of us. Sebastian and Violet. Violet and Sebastian. Just the way it's always going to be. Oh, we are lucky, my darling, to have one another and need no one else, ever.

By the film's end, Catherine was not going to be institutionalized or lobotomized - there was no need now that the truth had been divulged. Dr. Hockstader realized: "There's every possibility that the girl's story is true." Dr. Cukrowicz bid goodbye to Mrs. Holly and George, promising them that Catherine would be free to come home to them.

Catherine (referring to herself in the third person) responded to Dr. Cukrowicz that she had been returned to a less painful present - and was now recovered:

Dr. Cukrowicz: "Catherine? Miss Catherine?"
Catherine: "She's here, Doctor. Miss Catherine's here."

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