Shock Corridor

Director: Samuel Fuller
Screenwriters: Samuel Fuller

Institute History

  • 1988 Sundance Film Festival


The theme of madness reaches its climax in Shock Corridor, set in a lunatic asylum. The protagonist, a journalist, infiltrates a lunatic asylum to try and solve a crime committed inside. There are three suspects: a black American who thinks he is a Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, a returned renegade from Korea, a nuclear physicist who has regressed to childhood. Eventually the journalist solves the crime—but at the cost of going mad himself.

In a curious way, he is reminiscent of Norman Mailer. Both are obsessed with America and see themselves aggressively as Americans. But, the picture of America they both present is one of violence and madness. Their loyalty to America is anchored in their experience during the war: they return to the war situation again and again. Both see themselves as simultaneously artists and journalists: Fuller likes to put striking shots in all his movies, which he compares to headlines, he commented proudly that the story of Shock Corridor was all front-page material . . .
—Peter Wollen

We have to imagine Fuller’s characters as being fundamentally divided, split personalities, who experience a kind of symmetry between the situations and dilemmas imposed upon them from without, and the contradictory nature of their own secret drives . . At a certain point in a Fuller movie the convergence of external and internal necessity becomes axiomatic: what makes the heroes act so violently is the fact that they experience the world around them as the intolerable reflection of an intolerable inner dilemma.

Johnny’s penetration into the world of insanity is—visually—a progress toward fragmentation . . . The obsession with a certain kind of factual truth, the attainment of an absolute emerges as a perversion, as the expression of a deeply apocalyptic and suicidal drive. Whatever the value of Shock Corridor as an image of modern America, one of its most interesting aspects is surely the way in which Fuller intimates that some of the most conscious and rational impulses of American society powerfully demonstrate the irrational nature of that society. Johnny achieves what other Fuller heroes merely seem to strive for: the paroxysm of violence as the revelation of an existential truth. For in the pursuit of the Sloan murder, Johnny is groping for his own identity.
—Thomas Elsaesser

— Peter Wollen

Screening Details

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